Search Results for ‘philadelphia union arson’

Labor roundup

Labor and employment roundup

  • Jury convicts Ironworkers Local 401 boss in union violence case [Philadelphia Inquirer, CBS Philly, earlier here, etc. on Quaker meetinghouse arson and other crimes] Pennsylvania lawmaker proposes to end unions’ exemption from laws defining crimes of harassment, stalking, threatening [York Dispatch; more on exemption of unions from these laws]
  • Emergent regime under federal law: if you’ve ever offered light duty to a disabled worker or returning injured worker, you’d better offer it to pregnant worker too [Jon Hyman]
  • Everything you know about company towns is wrong [Alex Tabarrok]
  • “The EEOC issues you’ll want to keep an eye on in 2015” [Littler Mendelson via Tim Gould, HR Morning]
  • Sued if you do: employers struggle to navigate between government rules encouraging, penalizing hiring of applicants with criminal records [WSJ, paywall] “Watch Your Back: The Growing Threat of FCRA Background Check Class Actions” [Gregory Snell, Foley & Lardner]
  • “Nearly 30 Percent of Workers in the U.S. Need a License to Perform Their Job: It Is Time to Examine Occupational Licensing Practices” [Melissa S. Kearney, Brad Hershbein and David Boddy, Brookings via John Cochrane]
  • “The Effect of Mandatory Sick Leave Policies: Reviewing the Evidence” [Max Nelsen] “Popularity of Obama’s paid sick leave proposal depends on workers not realizing it ultimately comes out of their paychecks.” [James Sherk]

Labor and employment roundup

  • Obama wants Hill to force paid leave on employers. What, his rule-by-decree powers didn’t stretch that far? [RCP, USA Today] Department of Labor, using funds taxed from supporters and opponents alike, happy to act as frank advocate for legislation [its blog]
  • Employers brace for salaried-overtime mandate, wrought by unilateral Obama decree [KSL, earlier at Cato]
  • Related: “Employers To Face More Litigation In 2015 As Plaintiff Lawyers Swoop In” [Daniel Fisher on Gerald Maatman/Seyfarth Shaw report] Here come more NLRB decisions too [Tim Devaney, The Hill]
  • Krugman on minimum wage: two economists in one! [Donald Boudreaux, Cafe Hayek via Coyote, @Mike_Saltsman (“Min wage in France is closer to $12/hr US. But Krugman still being inconsistent bc he’s also backed $15 US minimum”)]
  • Five pro-de Blasio unions — SEIU/1199, teachers, hotel workers, doormen/building staff, CWA District 1 — help enforce NYC mayor’s agenda [NYDN]
  • Testimony: “worst-kept secret” in Philly ironworkers’ union was that you could get ahead through violent “night work” [Philadelphia Inquirer; earlier on Quaker meetinghouse arson here and here, related here]
  • Loads of new compliance burdens: “Changes in California Employment Law for 2015” [Baker Hostetler] And it wouldn’t be California without many more employer mandates pending in legislature [Steven Greenhut]

Boston attack on Padma Lakshmi and crew

If done by anyone other than unionists, this would by now be a trending national story:

The Teamsters picketers were already mad. By the time Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi’s car pulled up to the Steel & Rye restaurant in the picturesque New England town of Milton just outside Boston, one of them ran up to her car and screamed, “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you f*cking wh*re!”

“She was scared,” said a Top Chef crewmember who witnessed the incident.

Bravo had incurred the wrath of Charlestown-based Teamsters Local 25 by using its own production assistants as drivers, reports the Boston Herald:

The picketers lobbed sexist, racist and homophobic slurs at the rest of the cast and crew for most of the day, the website reported, and when production wrapped, the “Top Chef” crew found that tires were slashed on 14 of their cars. Milton police confirmed that the union members were “threatening, heckling and harassing” but said no arrests were made.

The Herald quotes a spokeswoman for Local 25, Melissa Hurley, sounding completely unapologetic: “As far as we’re concerned, nothing happened.” Or to put it differently: Teamsters Will Be Teamsters.

More, including the violent history that makes this incident anything but “isolated,” from the Boston Globe. I’ve posted on the curious exemption of unions from the law of harassment, stalking, hostile environment, intimidation, etc. here, here (more on Philadelphia Quaker meetinghouse arson), and in various other posts, as well as in my book The Excuse Factory.

Labor and employment roundup

January 2003 archives


January 10-12 — Tobacco fees, cont’d: “Not a pretty picture”. What with our hiatus, we’ve been remiss in updating readers about it, but the neglected story of how lawyers carted off billions from the 1998 tobacco heist has been breaking into the news in increasingly noisy fashion. In November, former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, who’d previously stonewalled efforts to investigate the private lawyers who worked under contract with his office, surprised observers by approaching his successor’s office with word that he has information about how at least one of those lawyers (unnamed thus far) may have breached his fiduciary duty to the state and may be subject to a potential forfeiture of fees. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “Former Texas AG Offers Info on Tobacco Lawyers’ Conduct”, Texas Lawyer, Nov. 18). The Dallas Morning News calls for the private lawyers to stop dodging the state’s efforts to put them under oath about the fee affair, as they have been doing for years now (“Clearing the air: Abbott should examine new tobacco claims” (editorial), Dallas Morning News, Nov. 15)(reg).

Last month, American Lawyer published what seems to be the first major journalistic account of one of the most secretive aspects of the whole scandal: the unaccountable arbitration panel that has repeatedly awarded unheard-of sums to the trial lawyers. We’ve covered the doings of this panel many times on this site, and our editor discusses its rulings at some length in his new book The Rule of Lawyers, but we’re delighted to see a professional news organization finally devote its resources to scrutinizing the arbitration panel’s role in the fee scandal. Reporter Susan Beck digs up a large trove of material previously unknown to us in what the magazine terms “a behind-the-scenes account of the controversial awards. Warning: It’s not a pretty picture.”

“The proceedings were private, and only the awards were made public. According to transcripts and interviews with more than 20 participants, the hearings were loosely run events. A labor mediator, Wells had never conducted an arbitration. Testimony was not taken under oath. Celebrity witnesses — some paid, others with personal ties to the parties — offered testimonials in person and on professionally produced videotapes. The hearings were punctuated with folksy aphorisms and down-home appeals to [arbitrator John Calhoun] Wells, whose swing vote determined the outcome every time.” The whole article (and its sidebars) deserve close study. (Susan Beck, “Trophy Fees”, The American Lawyer, Dec. 2; “As Murky as a Clay Hole”, Dec. 2; “And the Winners Are…”, Dec. 2). And this month, the same reporter details the internecine strife that has gone far to tear apart the firm that made off with the greatest share of the ill-gotten gains from tobacco, Charleston, S.C.’s Ness Motley Loadholt Richardson & Poole, as the formerly cordial partners spar about … well, it basically seems to come down to money. “So maybe a couple billion dollars can’t buy happiness after all.” (Susan Beck, “Jet Blues”, The American Lawyer, Jan. 9). (DURABLE LINK)

January 10-12 — China: lawyer sues over 4-minute cinema delay. Emulating the American way of doing things, with a vengeance? “A disgruntled cinema-goer who went to watch the hit Chinese film Hero is suing the picture house and a movie production company because the movie started four minutes late. Zhang Yang, a lawyer, took action after being forced to watch four minutes of advertisements, which delayed the start of the film until 9.34pm when his ticket said it was due to commence at 9.30pm, according to the weekly Beijing Today.” However, Zhang does not appear to have adopted American lawyers’ ideas of suitable compensation: he appears to be asking for a mere $17, “a refund of his 40 yuan ($8.50) ticket and 40 yuan ($8.50) in compensation.” (“Chinese man sues after adverts delay movie by four minutes”, Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 6)(& see Feb. 20). (DURABLE LINK)

January 9 — “Drunk Driving Victim Sues Designated Driver”. New frontiers of liability dept.: in Boulder, Colo., a lawyer for car-crash victim Doris Gray is suing not just the drunken driver whose vehicle hit her car but also “the driver’s friend, who reportedly failed to keep her promise to be a designated driver”. Although none of the participants could think of any earlier cases in which persons have been held liable for shirking a designated-driver role, a former head of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association claims the new theory is “pretty solid”. (TheDenverChannel.com, Jan. 7). (DURABLE LINK)

January 9 — Playing chicken on malpractice reform. New Jersey’s Democratic pols propose dealing with their state’s medical liability crisis by enacting a cap on insurance rates while doing nothing to reduce the spiraling cost of judgments, settlements and defense costs. Columnist Paul Mulshine of the Newark Star-Ledger isn’t impressed. (“MDs will fly the coop rather than play chicken”, Jan. 7). (DURABLE LINK)

January 9 — “The Lawyers Are Lurking Over S.U.V.’s”. “The beginning of a new year is a good time for predictions, so here’s mine: S.U.V.’s are next on the agenda for the plaintiff’s bar. … [Suits of this kind] have less to do with the law or the facts than with the social climate… Don’t be surprised if some ambitious state attorneys general get into the act, too.” (Daniel Akst, New York Times, Jan. 5)(reg). (DURABLE LINK)

January 7-8 — Disabled-access suit could stop Super Bowl. “Super Bowl XXXVII may have to move from Qualcomm Stadium unless the city expands access for the disabled at the stadium. Attorney Amy Vandeveld filed an application for an injunction Friday in U.S. District Court in an attempt to get the city to comply with the terms of a 2001 a settlement aimed at expanding access for disabled people at the stadium.” (“Super Bowl XXXVII may be blocked in San Diego”, The Sports Network, Jan. 3). In the March 2001 settlement, San Diego officials agreed to spend more than $6.5 million in taxpayer funds to improve access to the stadium; attorney Vandeveld “received $1.3 million in attorney fees and other payments”. Linda Woodbury, the city’s disability services coordinator, estimated that the city’s overall “to-do” list of accessibility projects would cost at least $175 million. (Caitlin Rother, “Disabled activists threaten suit on Padres’ new ballpark”, SignOnSanDiego, Feb. 11, 2002). And ABC correspondent John Stossel recently devoted a segment to lawyers’ use of the ADA to extract settlements from retailers and other defendants (“Equal Access to the ‘Wild Side'”, 20/20, Nov. 9). (DURABLE LINK)

January 7-8 — Trial lawyer’s purchase of Alabama governor’s house said to be “arm’s-length”. “Wray Pearce, the Birmingham accountant who bought Gov. Don Siegelman’s Montgomery home for twice its appraised value, was acting as an intermediary for trial lawyer Lanny Vines, who subsequently bought the house from Pearce, according to court records filed last month in a lawsuit involving the two men. … The governor and his representatives have described the house sale as an arm’s-length transaction, with the governor and his wife placing the property on the market, and a buyer coming along and paying the asking price. … None of the records in the court file specifically state why Vines used his longtime accountant as an apparent straw buyer for the home. Nor do they explain why Vines was willing to pay a sum that a county appraisal and a Register review showed was about twice the home’s value.” Vines is considered one of the most politically influential plaintiff’s lawyers in Alabama. (Eddie Curran, “Papers show trial lawyer paid accountant for Siegelman house”, Mobile Register, Nov. 11). Also catch the editor’s note at the end of the article: “The governor’s office has a stated policy of refusing to comment to Register Reporter Eddie Curran.” (DURABLE LINK)

January 7-8 — “The Politics of Family Destruction”. Scorching indictment of the divorce industry by Howard University professor and fathers’ rights advocate Stephen Baskerville (Crisis, Nov.). And civil liberties advocates are uneasy about a developing trend in which courts in Ohio and Wisconsin have ordered men behind in their child support payments not to father any more children. (Dee McAree, “Deadbeat Dads Told to Stop Having Kids”, National Law Journal, Sept. 26; see Nov. 28, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — “Courting stupidity: why smart lawyers pick dumb jurors”. If you’d like an advance peek at our editor’s forthcoming bookThe Rule of Lawyers, this is your chance: the chapter on jury excesses is excerpted in January’s Reason. (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — “Doctors strike over malpractice costs”. “More than two dozen orthopedic, general and heart surgeons in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle began 30-day leaves of absence Wednesday or planned to begin leaves in the next few days.” Doctors in Pennsylvania are also on the brink of a job action to protest the legal system, despite a letter from a state official menacing them with having their licenses revoked for patient “abandonment”. (MSNBC, Jan. 2; Josh Goldstein, “Pa. warns doctors not to quit”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 28; Google news; see Jan. 21, 2002) (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — U.K.: “Killer claims over loss of interest”. “A murderer is demanding thousands of dollars in lost interest because his prison savings were not invested wisely.” John Duggan, 53, jailed for life in 1984 after he admitted battering his girlfriend to death, says officials of the British Prison Service wrongfully left his money “in a zero-interest prison account designed for spending in jail on phonecards and toiletries” and says they had a duty to invest his earnings in an interest-bearing account. (Melbourne Herald Sun, Dec. 29). (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — “Jack Ass blasts ‘Jackass'”. “A Montana man who legally changed his name to Jack Ass in 1997 (to raise awareness of the perils of drunk driving) says Jackass, the controversial MTV stunt-fest and subsequent film, has besmirched his sterling reputation, and … has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Viacom.” (Julie Keller, E! Online, Jan. 2; Michael Rosenwald, “The Appellative Court: The Real Jack Ass”, The New Yorker, Jan. 6). (& letter to the editor). (DURABLE LINK)

January 3-6 — Milberg copyrights its complaints. The leading class-action law firm has sent cease-and-desist letters to about ten other law firms, informing them that they are in violation of its rights when they swipe large amounts of language from Milberg Weiss suits — sometimes pretty much the entire complaint — for purposes of filing their own copycat lawsuits against the same defendants. Annoyed by the free riders, star litigator Bill Lerach “started putting copyright notices on some of his complaints, and registering those notices with the U.S. Copyright Office last September.” (Janet L. Conley, “Milberg Weiss Tries to Nail Class Action Imitators”, Fulton County Daily Report, Nov. 20). (DURABLE LINK)


January 20 — U.K.: coercive campaign to constrain Cadbury… In Britain, a “leading public health expert” is proposing a legal ban on extra-large chocolate bars and a code of conduct for snack food companies which “would include promises to cut the size of their portions by 20 per cent and to stop selling ‘over-sized’ sweets”. Particularly offensive to coercive nutritionists is some food companies’ practice of offering an extra-large package at a price only slightly higher than that of the smaller size. (Severin Carrell, “Why that big, fat KitKat could be the death of you”, The Independent, Jan. 19) (& welcome TongueTied readers). (DURABLE LINK)

January 20 — … and climbing cost of “compensation culture”. “The compensation culture, in which ‘every mishap leads to a complaint’ and often to legal action, is changing the face of Britain and costing about £10 billion a year, a report says today. … Compensation paid by insurance companies and public authorities amounts to one per cent of GDP, actuaries estimate. The figure is growing by 15 per cent a year. … However, the 35 per cent spent on administration in Britain compares well with the 58 per cent in America.” Schools, police forces and the ministry of defense are all being sued more frequently. (Joshua Rozenberg, “Price of ‘suing for every mishap’ is £10bn”, Daily Telegraph, Dec. 17; “Compensation claims ‘costing UK £10bn a year'”, Ananova/Guardian, Dec. 17; Robert Verkaik, “Lawyers earn £3bn yearly from injuries culture”, Independent, Dec. 17; London Institute of Actuaries/Edinburgh Faculty of Actuaries, press release; “The Cost of Compensation Culture”, Dec. 2002 (PDF)). (DURABLE LINK)

January 17-19 — Vt. high court: ALL-CAPS DISCLAIMER on front page of employee handbook not unambiguous enough. “Sidestepping an all-capitals disclaimer on page one of an employee handbook, Vermont’s Supreme Court has revived a woman’s right to sue her ex-employer for breaching an implied contract when it fired her.” Although the disclaimer said: “THE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES CONTAINED IN THIS MANUAL CONSTITUTE GUIDELINES ONLY. THEY DO NOT CONSTITUTE PART OF AN EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT, NOR ARE THEY INTENDED TO MAKE ANY COMMITMENT TO ANY EMPLOYEE,” the court ruled that the woman could nonetheless ask a jury to construe the manual’s contents as generating a legally enforceable promise. (Andrew Harris, “Big Disclaimer No Bar to Employee Suit”, National Law Journal, Jan. 15). (DURABLE LINK)

January 17-19 — “Ich Bin Ein Tort Lawyer”. Train disasters in the Austrian Alps and in Germany in recent years, which killed 155 and 101 people respectively, have resulted in the filing of massive personal-injury lawsuits in New York City, although very few Americans numbered among the victims and most of the defendants being sued are European companies. American lawyers (including Edward Fagan, who also drew critical attention in the Holocaust-assets litigation — see Jun. 24, 2002) argue that so long as they designate at least one American as lead plaintiff, they should be able to bring any number of other nonresident plaintiffs in on the same action. Such forum-shopping enables the lawyers to sidestep rules in German and Austrian courts that ban contingency fees, cap damages, require the losing side to compensate the winners, and restrict discovery and the use of class actions. (Michael Freedman, Forbes, Jan. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

January 17-19 — Blog-appreciated. Yesterday (Jan. 16) we got Slashdotted, with a reader’s suggestion that we cover a lawyer’s cease-and-desist letter sent to the maintainer of a “free PCI device table” (we readily admit we don’t know what those devices are). AngryRobot describes an indecorous canine-generated outdoor hazard which seems only too likely to eventuate in the sort of personal injury case “destined to be on Overlawyered” (Jan. 16). Our return from hiatus last month was generously hailed by Susanna Cornett in Cut on the Bias (Dec. 13), and by the web’s premier chronicler of appellate law, Howard Bashman’s How Appealing (Dec. 15 and Dec. 30). Dean Esmay (Dean’s World, Jan. 10) calls us “one of the best sites on the web”. We’ve also been mentioned lately on Employers’ Lawyer (Jan. 12), MedRants (Jan. 11), Larry Sullivan’s Delaware Law Office (Nov. 12)(on loser-pays, which Sullivan dubs “winner wins”), Nikita Demosthenes (Oct. 19), and on many link lists including those of Rick Henderson, Nikki, Esq., Carey Gage, Professor Bunyip, John Ray, and Skunk by the Ocean. All this incoming link activity leaves us at #155 in the BlogStreet Top 200 blogs (ranked by number of those who link to us). A special tip of the hat to Scott Norvell’s recently launched TongueTied site, cataloguing excesses of political correctness, which generates an impressive amount of traffic for us. And we turn up in a sidebar in Germany’s Der Spiegel Online (Frank Patalong, “Wahre Lügen”, on the “Stella Awards” list of spurious cases, Nov. 29). (DURABLE LINK)

January 15-16 — Furor over California complaint mills. Beverly Hills, Calif. law firm Trevor Law Group has used the state’s bounty-hunting consumer-protection laws to file complaints en masse against auto repair shops, nail salons, and hotels, from which it then demands settlements. Even Calif. attorney general Bill Lockyer, no foe of the plaintiff’s bar, says he is “disgusted and appalled” by Trevor’s most recent mass litigation campaign, against more than 1,000 restaurants and food stores, many small and immigrant-owned. Business owners are organizing in response and many news outlets have run indignant editorials (Cindy Chang, “Backlash against lawsuit gains steam”, Pasadena Star-News, Jan. 2; Traci Jai Isaacs, “Business owners claiming old law used in ‘shakedowns'”, South Bay Daily Breeze, Jan. 14; California Restaurant Association “Call to Action”, Jan.; KABC-TV 7, “Auto Lawsuits”, Dec. 3; Civil Justice Association of California, “Legal Shakedowns Hitting Thousands of California Businesses”, Dec. 6; “Mass Produced Claims Against Nail Salons”, Dec. 6 (PDF)). Radio’s “John and Ken Show” has also been covering the controversy and its online audio segments (three December dates) are described by one reader as quite lively in tone, although we haven’t had the chance to listen to them. (& see Mar. 3) (DURABLE LINK)

January 15-16 — Sis-Boom-Sue. Jenny Lawson is suing the Des Moines school district, alleging she broke her leg when she collided with another cheerleader while cheering for the wrestling team at Roosevelt High School. “The suit claims the district was negligent for — among other things — failing to have cheerleaders perform on an absorbent mat and encouraging more than one cheerleader to jump at once. Drew Bracken, an attorney for the Des Moines district, said he knew of no schools with such rules. ‘I’m not aware of a requirement that cheerleaders perform on an absorbent mat. I’ve never heard of it before,’ Bracken said.” (Mark Siebert, Des Moines Register, Jan. 2). (DURABLE LINK)

January 13-14 — “Wacky Warning Label” winners. This year’s winner in Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch’s Wacky Warning Label contest is a label on a robotic massage chair that warns, “Do not use massage chair without clothing” along with “Never force any body part into the backrest area while the rollers are moving”. “Second place goes to a snowblower label that says ‘Do not use snowthrower on roof.’ Third is a kitchen label that says, ‘Do not allow children to play in the dishwasher.'” (multiple outlets; Business Wire, Jan. 8) (earlier winners: Jan. 25-27, 2002; Jan. 19-21, 2001; Jan. 18, 2000) (DURABLE LINK)

January 13-14 — Cochran: City Hall to blame for arson/murder by drug dealer. “In a legal memo expected to land at City Hall in a matter of days, attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. will claim the city bears responsibility for the October arson murder of an East Baltimore family — in part because the anti-drug ‘Baltimore Believe’ campaign encouraged residents to speak out against dealers, a lawyer working with Cochran said yesterday. Cochran is representing relatives of the Dawson family, who prosecutors say were killed in retaliation for reporting neighborhood dealers to police.” (Laura Vozzella and Del Quentin Wilber, “Anti-drug campaign blamed in Dawson arson deaths”, Baltimore Sun, Jan. 8)(via WSJ Best of the Web) (DURABLE LINK)

January 13-14 — Anti-diet activist hopes to sue Weight Watchers. “U.K.-based psychotherapist Susie Orbach, author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue, is planning a lawsuit against Weight Watchers on behalf of what she says are thousands of women and men who have paid out many hundreds of British pounds to the company, only to end up fatter than before they started the program. … Orbach’s suit would be the first to hold a weight-loss company responsible for clients’ gaining the weight back.” (“Diet Dispute”, ABC News, Jan. 9). “‘Now that the general public is taking absolutely no responsibility, we retailers are starting to get anxious,’ says Simon Doonan, creative director of the Manhattan clothier Barney’s. ‘If people are suing McDonald’s for making them fat, one does wonder how far we are from an era where individuals will attempt to sue us when they buy clothes that make them look fat.'” (Joanne Kaufman, “Seasonal Pain and Suffering”, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 29) (DURABLE LINK)


January 31-February 2 — “Cities Pay Big in Faulty Lawsuits”. Fox News picks up on the theme explored by columnist Deroy Murdock a few days ago of how persons hurt while committing crimes or trying to commit suicide now often show up in court demanding compensation for others’ negligence in letting them be injured. This site’s editor went on camera to take a less-than-enthusiastic view of such suits. (Jan. 30) (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 — FBI probes Philadelphia’s hiring of class-action firm. “An FBI investigation is focusing on why current and former city officials gave potentially lucrative legal work to a top Democratic donor and resisted a judge’s efforts to seek competitive bids for the work.” The administration of Ed Rendell, since elected Pennsylvania governor, hired prominent class-action firm Barrack, Rodos & Bacine to represent the city as lead plaintiff in a large class action in California representing investors in Network Associates, a software firm. Through its senior partner, the law firm says it plans to cooperate with the investigation. (Cynthia Burton, Mark Fazlollah and Joseph Tanfani, “FBI investigates Philadelphia’s Pension Board”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 30). Update and more coverage: Mar. 21-23. (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 — “Valentine’s Card Burglar Sues Police”. From the U.K.: “A convicted burglar has been given legal aid to sue the police for sending him a Valentine’s card last year. Gary Williams, who has a 12-year criminal record, was one of 10 known burglars and car criminals who received cards from Brighton police. But when he opened the card, his girlfriend thought it must be from another woman. She was so cross that, before he could explain, she hurled an ashtray at him, and it went whistling past his head.” (David Sapsted, Daily Telegraph, Jan. 29) (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 — Fair housing law vs. free speech. On more than one occasion, when local residents have spoken out against the siting of low-income housing projects or group homes in their neighborhoods, they’ve faced (unsuccessful) lawsuits and attempted fines on the grounds that their speech constituted a civil rights violation. Now the Sixth Circuit has approved a more subtle way of discouraging residents from speaking their minds: impute their prejudiced views to the government that has allowed them to speak at a public hearing. It’s a good way of getting government bodies to stop holding public hearings for fear of liability, according to columnist Robyn Blumner (“Fair Housing Act cannot be used to gag residents’ displeasure”, St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 19). (DURABLE LINK)

January 31-February 2 — Manhattan Institute turns 25. The New York-based policy institute, with which our editor is associated, celebrates its quarter-century anniversary. Read more about it (Tom Wolfe, “Revolutionaries”, New York Post, Jan. 30; “Ideas Matter” (editorial), Jan. 30). Then visit the Institute’s website and sign up for its invaluable mailing list. (DURABLE LINK)

January 30 — “ADA Goes to the Movies”. The AMC chain pioneered stadium-style seating in movie theaters, which much improves sight lines for audiences and quickly became the industry standard. Then civil-rights activists swooped down, saying the new layouts (the earlier versions, at least) were unlawful because they provided too narrow a set of seating choices for patrons in wheelchairs. Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard takes up the story (Jan. 24). (DURABLE LINK)

January 30 — Targeting Wall Street. More than 200 mass tort lawyers recently met at Las Vegas’s Bellagio Hotel to discuss suing investment firms, at an event put on by the Mass Torts Made Perfect organization. Veterans of the breast-implant and fen-phen campaigns “are hoping to profit from the fallout of the $1.4 billion global regulatory settlement over stock-research conflicts, seeking to file claims on behalf of investors.” Law partners James Hooper and Robert Weiss “concede they don’t really know their way around Wall Street” but have already spent more than $1 million in television advertising in search of retired Florida clients who lost money in the market. “The pair is teaming up with Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner & Proctor PA, a large mass-tort firm based in Pensacola, Fla., known for its filings against the tobacco industry, among others.” Messrs. Hooper and Weiss “recently filed 71 cases against Citigroup Inc.’s Salomon Smith Barney on behalf of investors who lost less than $25,000 apiece.” The newcomers have not met with a friendly reception from the existing plaintiff’s securities bar, however, who tend to sniff at their lack of a track record in the area. (Susanne Craig, “Lawyers Target Wall Street Following Regulatory Payoff”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29) (online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)

January 29 — State of the Union. “To improve our health care system, we must address one of the prime causes of higher costs — the constant threat that physicians and hospitals will be unfairly sued. Because of excessive litigation, everybody pays more for health care and many parts of America are losing fine doctors. No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit. I urge the Congress to pass medical liability reform.” (President Bush, State of the Union speech Jan. 28, reprinted, Quad City Times). Charles Krauthammer’s take: “Sick, Tired and Not Taking It Anymore”, Time, Jan. 13 (MedRants comments). And see James M. Taylor, “States Take Lead on Medical Malpractice Reform”, Heartland Institute Health Care News, Jan.(DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 — Latest Rule of Lawyers publicity. Following appearances in New York and Washington, our editor is speaking on the book to a lunchtime audience Tuesday in Chicago; details here. Trips to Texas, California and elsewhere are in the works, as well as many radio programs. Famed InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds gave us a nice lift Friday in his MSNBC column (Jan. 24). Fox News Channel has now put online a partial transcript of our editor’s appearance last Thursday on “The Big Story” (posted Jan. 24). A CNN appearance is still pending. Eric Schippers of the Center for Individual Freedom gave the book a favorable review in the Federalist Society publication Engage, reprinted here. And Reason’s recent cover story/excerpt included a mini-author profile which we neglected to link earlier. (Jan.)

There’s more: Barnes & Noble Online gave the book one of its rotating “We Recommend” designations (Law category); both the Conservative Book Club/National Review Book Service and Laissez-Faire Books have picked the book as a selection and given it good write-ups; and e-versions are available for download from Franklin.com (requires proprietary software) and Palm Digital Media. (DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 — “No suits by lawbreakers, please”. Syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock says a good place to start with tort reform would be to cut off lawsuits where the complainant’s own crime or suicide attempt was the preponderant cause of his injury. Among eyebrow-raising cases: “Disturbed, Angelo Delgrande shot and wounded his parents and himself in a June 1995 dispute. He then received surgery at a Westchester County, N.Y. hospital. That night, he yanked the tubes and monitoring devices from his body, then leapt off the second story of an adjacent parking garage in a suicide bid. He is now paraplegic. Delgrande sued the hospital for failing to treat his depression and keep him indoors. Last October, he won $9 million.” Also quotes our editor (Scripps Howard News Service/Sacramento Bee, Jan. 23) (& see Jan. 31) (DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 — “Woman Attacked By Goose Sues County”. “A woman who says she was attacked by a 3-foot-tall goose is suing Palm Beach County, claiming the county should not have allowed the bird to roam in a public park.” Darlene Griffin, 30, says she was attacked on Feb. 5 in Okeeheelee Park. The county contends that it has no duty to protect parkgoers from “obvious” dangers. (Local6/WKMG, Jan. 24; CNN, Jan. 24). (DURABLE LINK)

January 27-28 — Don’t break out the shakes yet. Judge Sweet’s ruling last week in favor of McDonald’s has been widely hailed as a blow for common sense and individual responsibility, but the judge “generously gave the plaintiffs a chance to try their luck again” and “take a second bite from the burger”. Lawyers are likely to refile both the case at issue and new ones, after due study of Sweet’s opinion which may even provide a “jurisprudential roadmap” to liability. “Make no mistake: This case is not about fat kids. It’s about fat paydays. For lawyers.” (“Mickey D’s Hollow Victory” (editorial), New York Post, Jan. 23; see also “Lawyers Run Marathons, Not Sprints”, Center for Consumer Freedom, Jan. 23). More: some well-known plaintiff’s lawyers pooh-pooh the fat suits (James V. Grimaldi, “Legal Kibitzers See Little Merit in Lawsuit Over Fatty Food at McDonald’s”, Washington Post, Jan. 27). On the other hand, a Fortune cover story argues for taking them seriously (Roger Parloff, “Is Fat the Next Tobacco?”, Jan. 21). (DURABLE LINK)

January 24-26 — Malpractice-cost trends. Many mainstream journalists, accepting arguments pressed on them by defenders of the litigation business, have uncritically repeated the notion that the crisis in medical malpractice insurance owes more to insurers’ unwise Wall Street investments than to galloping litigation costs. But in fact, according to an expert on insurer portfolio management, “asset allocation and investment returns have had little, if any, correlation to the development of the current malpractice problem. The crisis is rather the result of a generally unconstrained increase in losses and, over several years, inadequate premium income to cover those losses.” (Raghu Ramachandran, “Did Investments Affect Medical Malpractice Premiums?”, Brown Brothers Harriman Insurance Asset Management Group, Jan. 21; see also post and comments at Megan McArdle’s site and earlier Jan. 1 post and comments). Doctors’ increasing willingness to walk off the job to protest the law’s expropriation — and politicians’ heavy-handed hints that they will face punishment if they do so — recall the producers’ strike in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, according to Edward Hudgins of the Objectivist Center (“Doctors Shrug”, Washington Times, Jan. 12). Ramesh Ponnuru argues that the Bush administration has not come up with an adequate grounding in federalism for a Congressional override of state malpractice law, given that it is a state’s own citizens who are the main losers from irrational verdicts (“Federal Malpractice”, National Review Online, Jan. 24). See also President Bush’s speech in Scranton, Jan. 16; White House “Policy in Focus: Medical Liability“; Michael Arnold Glueck and Robert J. Cihak, “It’s Not Just ‘Sue the Docs’ Anymore”, MedJournal.com blog, Jan. 14; RangelMD, Jan. 18; MedRants, Jan. 20; MedPundit, Jan. 19; Sydney Smith (MedPundit), “Dangerous Lies”, TechCentralStation, Jan. 21. (DURABLE LINK)

January 24-26 — Race-bias cases gone wrong. “The Florida Supreme Court has disbarred a Fort Lauderdale attorney accused of filing a string of racial discrimination lawsuits against employers such as Ocean Spray and BellSouth, which a federal judge labeled as extortion. Norman Ganz was disbarred for allowing his paralegal, a convicted felon, to engage in the unlicensed practice of law, charge an excessive fee and represent clients with adverse interests. … They were accused of filing a string of lawsuits against employers such as Ocean Spray, BellSouth, Broward County, Fla., and the Broward County School Board, then threatening to bring in the NAACP as a plaintiff. In return, the lawyers gave NAACP chapters some of the settlement money. … The cases also led to the ouster of Roosevelt Walters, former head of the Fort Lauderdale NAACP.” (Julie Kay, “Florida Lawyer Who Filed Controversial Racial Bias Suits Disbarred”, Miami Daily Business Review, Dec. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

January 23 — Judge tosses McDonald’s obesity case. “A federal judge in Manhattan today threw out a lawsuit brought against the McDonald’s Corporation by two obese teenagers, declaring as he did so that people are responsible for what they eat and that the teenagers’ complaints could spawn thousands of ‘McLawsuits’ if they were upheld. … Samuel Hirsch, the Manhattan lawyer who represents the plaintiffs … noted that Judge Sweet said the two teenagers were not barred from filing an amended complaint, and Mr. Hirsch promised to do just that, asserting that he still had a ‘credible and viable lawsuit.'” New York Times (reg); opinion in PDF format; GoogNews compilation; Reuters/FoxNews; AP/Court TV; Yahoo Full Coverage). And — rather undercutting the much-bruited notion that the increase in portion sizes at restaurants constitutes some sort of sneaky maneuver by restauranteurs having nothing to do with consumer preferences — “In a new study, researchers looked at such foods as hamburgers, burritos, tacos, french fries, sodas, ice cream, pie, cookies and salty snacks and found that the portions got bigger between the 1970s and the 1990s, regardless of whether people ate in or out.” (Deanna Bellandi, “Study Finds Meal Portion Sizes Growing”, AP/Washington Post, Jan. 21). (DURABLE LINK)

January 23 — Justices nix vicarious personal housing-bias liability. More good news: vacating a Ninth Circuit ruling, the Supreme Court has unanimously decided that under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 the owner of a real estate agency cannot in most cases be made to pay personally for the discriminatory acts of an underling without some further direct showing of fault. The agency’s liability was not in question; the question was instead whether the owner’s personal assets should be at risk if the agency lacked money to pay a judgment. A sobering aspect of the case: the Bush Administration entered it against the agency owner, arguing that he should be held personally liable but on a different legal theory (that the agency was legally an alter ego of his). The high court did not resolve that possible theory of liability. (Linda Greenhouse, “Justices Limit Housing Bias Lawsuits”, New York Times, Jan. 22)(reg) (DURABLE LINK)

January 23 — Our editor on TV. On Tuesday, kicking off a media swing to promote The Rule of Lawyers, our editor was a guest of Court TV’s Catherine Crier, who said some extremely kind things about the book (which rose to #265 on Amazon, helped by the WSJ‘s great review the same day). Today (Thursday) afternoon, watch for him to be interviewed by Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox News Channel’s The Big Story with John Gibson. And although bookings are always subject to last-minute change, don’t be surprised if he turns up Friday evening on CNN. (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 — Not my partner’s keeper. No joint and several liability for us, please: “In a sign of increased caution in the post-Enron world, two of New York’s most prominent law firms have elected to become limited liability partnerships. Sullivan & Cromwell and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison both acquired Limited Liability Partnership status effective Jan. 1, thus ending a combined 250 years of operation as general partnerships.” The effect is to insulate partners from having to pay for each others’ negligence or other wrong, even if greater vigilance by the firm as a whole might have reduced the likelihood of wrongdoing. (Anthony Lin, “Prominent Law Firms Move to Limit Liability”, New York Law Journal, Jan. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 — ATLA’s hidden influence. From the Capital Research Center, which keeps tabs on activist groups: “The movement for tort reform has been stalled by an unholy alliance of trial lawyers and consumer advocates eager to preserve the power to sue. But few Americans understand the ties linking Ralph Nader-inspired groups to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.” Includes considerable information about ATLA’s generosity to various private groups which lobby against limits on medical malpractice litigation. Also quotes this site (Neil Hrab, “Association of Trial Lawyers of America: How It Works with Ralph Nader Against Tort Reform”, January (summary; “Foundation Watch” report in PDF format)). (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 — “Tort turns toxic”. Overview of how litigation is wreaking havoc in diverse sectors of the society, from medicine to terrorism insurance, includes particular attention to the problems it’s creating for affordable housing. Construction of condominiums and apartments in California and other Western states has become much more expensive to insure because of burgeoning litigation over allegedly defective construction, some of the allegations well grounded but others drummed up by eager solicitation of condo associations by lawyers. By the year 2000, insurers in California were paying out nearly $3 for every premium dollar collected from builders, and imposing big premium hikes. Multi-unit housing construction has now plunged, and major builders have shifted efforts from affordable condos to pricier freestanding homes, perceived as a lower litigation risk. (Steven Malanga, “Tort Turns Toxic,” City Journal, Autumn 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 — Welcome Wall Street Journal readers. Highly favorable review of our editor’s new book The Rule of Lawyers: “an entertaining, but disturbing, chronicle of class-action abuses … Mr. Olson’s engaging prose, for all its charm, is propelled by a sense of outrage at the abuses he describes: He slams his opponents onto the mat, lets them rise slightly in a daze and then slams them down again, round after round.” Also mentions this website (David A. Price, “In a Class By Themselves”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 21 (online subscribers only)). (DURABLE LINK)

November 2001 archives


November 9-11 — “Politically Incorrect Profiling: A Matter of Life or Death”. Stuart Taylor, Jr. returns to the subject of air passenger profiling in a must-read sequel to his September column: “Political pressure from Arab-American and liberal groups spurred the Clinton and Bush Administrations to bar use of national origin as a profiling component before September 11. … [This] achieved its goal of minimizing complaints, which plunged from 78 in 1997 to 11 in 1998, 13 in 1999, and 10 last year, according to Transportation Department data. It did not work so well at preventing mass murder. On September 11, the CAPS [Computer-Assisted Passenger Screening] system flagged only six of the 19 Middle Eastern hijackers for extra scrutiny, which was apparently confined to the bags of the two who checked luggage. None of the 19 men or their carry-ons appear to have been individually searched. And the FAA’s 1999 decision to seal CAPS off from all law enforcement databases — after complaints from liberal groups that criminal records were error-prone — may help explain why the FBI had not told the FAA that two of the 19 were on its watch list of suspected terrorists.” Incredibly, the Bush Administration has signaled that it’s sticking to the current ban on letting airlines do national-origin passenger profiling. (National Journal/The Atlantic, Nov. 6) See Oct. 3-4; also Richard Cohen, “Profiles in Evasiveness”, Washington Post, Oct. 11).

MORE: This makes a good time to catch up on Taylor’s columns since the attacks, all recommended: index; “The Bill to Combat Terrorism Doesn’t Go Far Enough”, Oct. 31; “The Media, the Military, and Striking the Right Balance”, Oct. 23; “The Rage of Genocidal Masses Must Not Restrain Us”, Oct. 16; “Wiretaps Are An Overblown Threat To Privacy”, Oct. 10; “How To Minimize the Risks of Overreacting to Terrorism”, Oct. 2; “Thinking the Unthinkable: Next Time Could Be Much Worse”, Sept. 19.

November 9-11 — Must be the Ninth Circuit, right? Yep, it is: in a September ruling, the much-reversed West Coast federal appeals court “discovered that male inmates in prisons have a ‘fundamental’ right to procreate by artificial insemination,” and thus to become daddies via FedEx delivery (George Will, “Inmates and Proud Parents”, Washington Post, Nov. 8).

November 9-11 — Infectious disease conquered, CDC now chases sprawl. The Centers for Disease Control were established to combat outbreaks of infectious disease, but have been steadily expanded and politicized to the point where the agency has recently crusaded against “epidemics” of gun ownership, tobacco use and domestic violence. The newest initiative of agency officials? A joint effort with the Sierra Club to put over the notion that housing sprawl is a public health risk, in part because suburbanites don’t get exercise walking to shops or work the way many city dwellers do — though you’d think their bigger yards and easier access to outlying recreational areas might give them more chance to exercise in other ways. Vincent Carroll pokes several holes in this theory, noting for example that Colorado, an archetypal suburban-sprawl state, has the country’s lowest rate of obesity (“Once more into the big, bad suburbs”, Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 3; Richard J. Jackson, M.D. (director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health), and Chris Kochtitzky (associate director for policy and planning at NCEH’s Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services), “Creating A Healthy Environment: The Impact of the Built Environment on Public Health”, SprawlWatch Clearinghouse Monograph Series, report in PDF format; Washington Times, “Sprawl alert” (editorial), Nov. 8). Then there’s the CDC’s own recent finding, which goes unmentioned on the Sierra Club’s page, that suburban areas boast better public health indicators than either cities or rural areas (“HHS Issues Report On Community Health in Rural, Urban Areas”, CDC press release, Sept. 10). Given the agency’s performance in the anthrax affair, where it has been left playing desperate catchup to close the gaps in its knowledge base and capabilities, we hope budgeters realize that it can ill afford to squander its resources and credibility on this kind of thing. (See InstaPundit, Oct. 24). (DURABLE LINK)

November 9-11 — Welcome JerryPournelle.com readers. On his “Computing at Chaos Manor” website, the famous science fiction writer and polymath recommends: “If you have any extra time, take a look at Overlawyered.com to see just what our legal system is capable of…” (Thursday’s entry — after this week an archive search will be required, look for Nov. 8). Not only is Pournelle a Macaulay fan, but he’s completely sound on the proposition that wars should be declared (our takes on the former, latter). We’ve also recently been linked by Robert Longley in his About.com sites on U.S. Government Info — specifically, in the environment and gun control subsections. Longley cites our environment page as offering “some fascinating reading” and gives a “Best of the Net” designation to our gun page: “an excellent resource to important gun-related cases”, he calls it.

November 7-8 — Vaccine industry perennially in court. Why are drug companies so chary about participating in the vaccine business? As a medical intervention administered to otherwise healthy persons, vaccination is easy to blame when recipients are later struck by otherwise inexplicable medical problems, and it’s not easy to distinguish genuine (often rare) side effects from unexplained maladies that would have struck just as frequently in the absence of vaccination. Although an Oct. 1 report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine found no evidence that children have suffered autism or other brain damage from vaccines employing trace amounts of mercury-containing thimerosal as a preservative (as well as no disproof of that scary proposition), a consortium of plaintiff’s law firms was undeterred from piling on a day or two later with mass lawsuits against Merck, Lilly, Abbott, Glaxo SmithKline, and numerous other firms (IOM press release, study; American Medical Association; William McCall, “Drug Companies Sued Over Vaccines Containing Traces of Mercury”, AP/law.com, Oct. 3; “Immune to Reason” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Oct. 23 (online subscribers only)). For the history of lawsuits charging that the diphtheria- tetanus- pertussis (DTP) and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) childhood vaccines cause autism and brain damage, see Aug. 31; American Medical Association; Howard Fienberg, “This Vaccine Won’t Hurt at All”, National Post (Canada), March 22; Howard Fienberg, “There’s No Vaccine Against Irrational Fears”, San Francisco Chronicle, July 5, 2000 (both reprinted at STATS site with long list of links appended).

The troubled recent production history of the anthrax vaccine administered to members of the U.S. military has been matched by an equally troubled legal history (Vanessa Blum, “At War Over Anthrax”, Legal Times, Oct. 23; Matt Fleischer-Black and Bob Van Voris, “Anthrax Vaccine’s Liability Issue”, National Law Journal, Oct. 23). On a personal level all this has tended to hit home for us with the word that our friend Mark Cunningham of the New York Post editorial page has been diagnosed as victim #18 in the anthrax attacks, and the third employee at the paper to contract the illness; it’s just a skin case and he’s doing fine (“really no big deal,” he says). “Fight Terror; Buy the Post” is his new slogan.

November 7-8 — Sued if you do dept.: co-worker’s claim of rape. For years now, HR compliance manuals have been warning that employers face liability if they fail to launch prompt and vigorous investigations when female employees charge male colleagues with sexual harassment, and the more serious the alleged harassment, the more trouble the company is in if it fails to investigate. But now a Philadelphia jury has awarded $150,000 to a male employee against his employer, chemical company Rohm & Haas, which he said invaded his privacy by subjecting him to an embarrassing police-style interrogation after a female co-worker wrongly accused him of rape. The employee’s attorney, Richard Silverberg, “said he believes the company had no business investigating the incident at all. ‘Rape is a police matter. An employer shouldn’t be undertaking to investigate whether a rape occurred,’ Silverberg said.” The jury also found the woman had defamed the man by making false accusations, but declined to order her to pay him any money. (Shannon P. Duffy, “Employee Awarded $150,000 After Co-Worker Falsely Accuses Him of Rape”, The Legal Intelligencer, Oct. 24).

November 7-8 — Byways of intellectual property law. They include this 1993 patent, called to our attention by one of our readers, for a laser-assisted cat-exerciser (US5443036: Method of exercising a cat — issued Aug. 22, 1995, filed Nov. 2, 1993) (Delphion.com).

November 7-8 — “They’re Making a Federal Case Out of It . . . In State Court”. Everything you wanted to know about why big class actions of nationwide scope belong in federal, not state court, from John H. Beisner and Jessica Davidson Miller of O’Melveny & Myers, in a paper for a forthcoming Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy and the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy (with which this site’s editor is affiliated). (No. 3, Sept. 2001: html, PDF formats). For frequent updates on new publications from the Manhattan Institute, whose areas of special focus include not only legal policy but education, urban policy (including New York’s recovery), taxation, crime and many other subjects, many of them covered in the acclaimed publication City Journal, we recommend signing up for the Institute’s free announcement list.

November 6 — NBC mulls Brockovich talk show. “NBC said this week it will feature Erin Brockovich in a pilot for a one-hour syndicated talk show that could begin airing as soon as early next year.” Writing for TechCentralStation.com, Sallie Baliunas and Nick Schulz are not impressed, calling Brockovich “the poster figure for trial lawyer excess and the assault on sound science”. (“Trial Lawyer TV: NBC Announces New Erin Brockovich Program”, Oct. 24; our take, “All About Erin”).

November 6 — In the mean time, let them breathe spores. “The U.S. Postal Service has bought millions of protective masks to guard its 700,000 workers who handle mail against inhaling anthrax spores, but postal workers are not allowed to use the masks until they are trained under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules. On the advice of health officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, the Postal Service bought 4.8 million of the spore-proof masks for its workers who handle mail and began offering workers the masks last week. But according to OSHA officials and regulations, the workers must undergo hours of training and pass a ‘fit test’ before they can be allowed to use the protective masks, which are like those worn by construction workers who install drywall and can be purchased at hardware stores.” (Daniel F. Drummond, “OSHA halts mask use in Postal Service”, Washington Times, Nov. 2).

November 6 — Gun controllers on the defensive. “Though gun-control groups have tried to capitalize on the Sept. 11 attacks, those attempts have misfired.” Indeed, the recent events have pointed up the questionable nature of several of the gun control movement’s underlying tenets: “that violence – even against a criminal – is always bad, that ordinary people are not to be trusted, and that it is best to let the authorities look out for you. … Americans have learned that being harmless does not guarantee that they will not be harmed”. (Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “Terrorists Attacked Gun Control Movement”, FoxNews.com, Nov. 4; George Will, “Armed Against Terrorism”, Washington Post, Nov. 4). Another major setback to the gun-confiscation cause came last month with the Fifth Circuit’s important decision in U.S. v. Emerson making clear that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to gun ownership (David Kopel and Glenn Reynolds, “A Right of the People”, National Review Online, Oct. 25; Michael Barone, “A decision of historic importance”, U.S. News, Oct. 19; Jacob Sullum, “Second Sight”, Reason Online, Oct. 23). For the Taliban’s version of gun control, see Reynolds’s Instapundit (Oct. 24). Go into the kitchen, said Winston Churchill, and get a carving knife: Michael Barone, “Time to stand and fight”, U.S. News, Nov. 11.

November 5 — Talk of torture. “It’s the sort of question that, way back in spring semester, would have made for a good late-night bull session in a college dorm room: If an atomic bomb were about to be detonated in Manhattan, would police be justified in torturing the terrorist who planted it to learn its location and save the city? But today, the debates are starting up in the higher reaches of the federal government. And this time, the answers really matter.” (Steve Chapman, “Should we use torture to stop terrorism?”, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 1; Dahlia Lithwick, “Tortured Justice”, Slate, Oct. 24).

November 5 — Judge may revive “Millionaire” ADA case. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of golfer Casey Martin, a federal judge has indicated that he may revive a dismissed suit, now on appeal, in which disabled plaintiffs charged that the qualifying rounds of ABC’s “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” unlawfully fail to provide accommodations that would allow deaf or paralyzed applicants to answer questions over the telephone. (Susan R. Miller, “Federal Judge Seeks Rerun of ‘Millionaire’ ADA Case”, Miami Daily Business Review, Nov. 1). And in what promises to be a much-watched case, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of Mario Echazabal in his ADA suit against Chevron Corp. over a refinery job, “contending that he should have gotten the job despite a chronic case of hepatitis C. Doctors who examined Mr. Echazabal said exposure to chemicals at the refinery would speed the deterioration of Mr. Echazabal’s liver and that a large exposure from a plant fire or other emergency could kill him.” (“Justices to decide if ADA protects hepatitis patient”, AP/Dallas Morning News, Oct. 31). Dissenting judge Stephen Trott called the result “unconscionable” and noted that it “would require employers knowingly to endanger workers” in pursuit of the nondiscrimination ideal. (“Needlessly endangering workers” (editorial), Las Vegas Review-Journal, Oct. 30).

November 5 — “Teen sex offenders face years of stigma”. “He was 16, wanting to be one of the guys, playing truth or dare. The dare: touch a girl’s breast during a football game at Hazel Park High School last year [outside Detroit]. He did. As a result, the boy will be branded as a sex criminal until the year 2024.” (L.L. Brasier, Detroit Free Press, Oct. 15) (via iFeminists.com).

November 2-4 — Opponents of profiling, still in the driver’s seat. Hiring for a job that involves, say, transporting petroleum, caustic chemicals or other hazardous materials? Don’t you dare apply any extra scrutiny to driver-applicants of Mideast origin, experts warn. Federal anti-discrimination law bans employer policies or interview questions that relate in any way to religion, ethnicity, or national origin and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has put out word that its commitment to this policy is in no way altered by the events of Sept. 11. “Experts say that companies must be careful to apply equally to all job applicants any beefed up prejob screening. Companies can’t, for example, run criminal background checks only on their Middle Eastern job applicants.” It’s also extremely hazardous as a legal matter to contact law enforcement about any unusual pattern of behavior involving one or more employees of Mideast origin unless one is prepared to show in court that one would have acted just as quickly to report the same unusual pattern in employees of Welsh or Korean or West Indian extraction. Hey, we may be sitting ducks, but at least we’re non-discriminatory sitting ducks, right? And of course if someone uses one of your trucks to cause harm you can expect to be sued for every dime you’re worth to compensate the survivors (Deirdre Davidson, “Rethinking the Workplace After Sept. 11”, Legal Times, Oct. 17).

Fourteen Syrian men arrived at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport last month to enroll in U.S. flight schools; although “their country is one of seven on the State Department’s ‘watch list’ of nations that sponsor terrorism,” they were waved through, there still being no official policy that would pose the slightest impediment to their obtaining such training here (Ruben Navarrette, “Flight training for Syrians should raise red flags”, Dallas Morning News, Oct. 19). The Associated Press, describing reports of extra scrutiny given to air passengers of Middle Eastern descent, quotes a parade of sources who deplore such scrutiny but not a single source willing to say there might be good reasons for it, although majorities of both blacks and Arab Americans have supported passenger profiling in post-Sept. 11 polls. (“Some travelers suspect profiling”, AP/CNN, Oct. 21). “A traveler, no less a potential immigrant, with a passport from Yemen and visas from Lebanon and Qatar should receive greater scrutiny — not harassment, but careful scrutiny — than a traveler with a passport from Chile and a visa from Spain. That is not racism; it is prudence — an objective assessment of where the threat resides. To do otherwise after September 11 would constitute extraordinary negligence,” writes Martin Peretz (“Entry Level”, The New Republic, Oct. 15). Before jumping into any proposal to apply heightened scrutiny to residents of Arab descent in this country, however, it should be recalled that the vast majority of Arab-Americans are in fact of Christian, not Muslim, descent, which makes them especially unlikely targets of recruitment efforts by bin Laden cell organizers. (Smart — and Stupid — Profiling”, Chris Mooney, The American Prospect, Oct. 23). (DURABLE LINK)

MORE: Air Canada has assured the Canadian Arab Federation that it has no policy of coordinating with police about passengers with Arabic-sounding names who check in on its flights (Jamie Glazov, “Discrimination a Must For Protection Against Islamic Terrorism”, FrontPage, Sept. 24). On Sept. 22 a United Air Lines flight crew prevented M. Ahsan Baig, a Pakistani man who works for a California high-tech company, from boarding a flight bound from the West Coast to Philadelphia. “A customer service manager repeatedly apologized to Baig for the incident and immediately got him on another flight,” but he’s suing the airline anyway (Harriet Chiang, “Man barred from flight sues airline”, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 30). Also see Jason L. Riley, “‘Racial Profiling’ and Terrorism”, OpinionJournal.com, Oct. 24; Jonah Goldberg, “In current context, racial profiling makes sense”, TownHall, Oct. 26; Allison Sherry, “Profile protest ignites debate”, Denver Post, Oct. 21 (sensitivity training demanded after incident at a Radio Shack). See Sept. 19-20, Oct. 3-4, Oct. 9.

November 2-4 — Updates. Digging deep into our backlog in search of items we can call good news:

* Gov. Bob Taft has signed a bill reversing some of the most extreme aspects of the Ohio Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence expanding the bounds of employer-provided auto insurance. The new law went into effect Oct. 29 on a prospective basis, but judicially mandated retroactive liability will still cost employers more than $1.5 billion in estimated claims currently in the pipeline. (Ohio Chamber of Commerce, summary, “Uninsured/ Underinsured Motorists Availability Act of 2001“; see June 29 and David J. Owsiany, “Judicial tyranny in Ohio”, Buckeye Institute, 2000).

* Following urgings in this space (do you think we had an effect?), the U.S. Department of Justice has reversed its previous position and asked federal judges “to drop thousands of upstate property owners as defendants in lawsuits by Indian tribes to recover land they contend New York State took from them illegally in the 19th century.” (see Nov. 3, 2000 and commentaries linked there) (Richard Perez-Peña, “Justice Dept. Moves to Drop Homeowners In Tribes’ Suits”, New York Times, Aug. 4, not online)

* Courts have generally been frowning on the idea of letting companies milk their insurance policies for the cost of fixing Y2K computer problems, which was the goal of an attempt by creative policyholder lawyers to reinterpret an old marine insurance doctrine known as “sue and labor”. (Celia Cohen, “Y2KO’d: Unisys Damage Suit Voluntarily Dismissed”, Delaware Law Weekly, Aug. 30; Sept. 16, 1999).

November 2-4 — Ambulance driver who broke for doughnuts entitled to sue. “A federal judge has denied the city of Houston’s request to throw out a lawsuit filed by a former ambulance driver fired after he stopped for doughnuts while transporting a patient to a hospital.” On July 10, 2000 Larry Wesley made a snack stop while transporting an injured youth to Ben Taub Hospital; the boy’s mother filed a complaint, and Wesley subsequently lost his job. But U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal said Wesley could proceed with his suit charging that had he been white rather than black he would not have been disciplined as severely for the lapse. (Rosanna Ruiz, “Judge refuses to toss suit by ambulance driver fired after doughnut stop”, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 31)(& update Jun. 28-30, 2002: Wesley loses case). (DURABLE LINK)

November 1 — Cipro side effects? Sue! In a welcome if somewhat belated move, public health authorities have advised the public that the normally indicated treatment for suspected exposure to the current round of anthrax attacks should be older antibiotics such as doxycycline rather than the extremely potent antibiotic Cipro, which is best reserved for infections that do not yield to conventional germ-killers. The German drug and chemical company Bayer, having been whipped up one side of the street for its perceived reluctance to hand out Cipro to everyone among the worried well who feels they would like some, might end up getting whipped down the other because it failed to dissuade consumers from using the drug, given the side effects some will likely suffer from it. “Cipro, or ciprofloxacin, is one of several fluoroquinolones, a controversial class of antibiotics that can cause a range of bizarre side effects: from psychological problems and seizures to ruptured Achilles tendons. … Fluoroquinolone users who have suffered severe side effects call themselves ‘floxies’ and have created their own Web site [“Quinolone Antibiotics Adverse Reaction Forum“]. … The Philadelphia law firm Sheller Ludwig Badey has been involved in about two dozen cases of severe quinolone side effects.” (Tara Parker-Pope, “Health Journal: Surge in Use of Cipro Spurs Concerns About Side Effects”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26 (online subscribers only)) Lawyers have already jumped all over Bayer over claimed side effects from its cholesterol-lowering drug, Baycol (Ruth Bryna Cohen, “More Locals Jump on Baycol Bandwagon”, The Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), Aug. 31).

November 1 — Swiss banks vindicated. A four-year investigation has concluded that “[m]ost dormant Swiss bank accounts thought to have belonged to Holocaust survivors were opened by wealthy, non-Jewish people who then forgot about their money.” Although officials at first assumed that a large share of the 10,000 older dormant accounts would turn out to be those of Nazi victims, only about 200 were, accounting for around $10 million. A public relations and litigation campaign led by American trial lawyers forced Swiss banks into a $1.5 billion settlement of claims that they withheld money from Holocaust victims’ families. (Adam Sage and Roger Boyes, “Swiss Holocaust cash revealed to be myth”, The Times (London), Oct. 13; see Aug. 29, 2000; May 31, 2000 (second item); Feb. 5, 2000 (second item); Aug. 25, 1999).

November 1 — Words as property: “entrepreneur”. How common does a common English word have to be before it’s okay to use it as a domain name without fear of being sued? The magazine named Entrepreneur has made legal rumblings suggesting that it violates its trademark rights for an unrelated entity to run a website entitled Entrepreneurs.com. The latter site does not plan to fold its tent quietly, however, and has mounted a vigorous defense of its position.


November 19-20 — New frontiers in discrimination law: Harleys among the cyclamens. Lawmakers in Ohio, South Carolina and several other states are pushing legislation that would prohibit businesses from turning away customers on motorcycles. Georgia state Sen. Joey Brush, who rides a Harley-Davidson, “introduced the legislation because of a long-running dispute with Calloway Gardens, a private, nonprofit horticultural garden that doesn’t allow bikers to drive onto the grounds. The ban, in place for the garden’s entire 49-year existence, is meant to protect the serenity and peace for which the grounds are known, said spokeswoman Rachel Crumbley. ‘We feel it’s not a civil right to ride a motorcycle wherever you please,’ Crumbley said.” An Ohio rider who supports such legislation “said a waitress at a restaurant near Cincinnati once placed him and his wife in a corner away from other patrons when the couple pulled up wearing leather boots, chaps and vests.” But the biker community, which in the past has often sided with libertarian causes such as opposition to mandatory helmet laws, is far from unanimous on this one: “As a business owner, they should have right to decide who they want,” says spokesman Steve Zimmer of Ohio’s pro-biker ABATE group — clearly someone who hasn’t forgotten that biking is supposed to be about freedom. (Andrew Welsh-Huggins, “Laws Seek to Protect U.S. Bikers”, AP/Yahoo, Nov. 14). (& letters to the editor, Feb. 28) (DURABLE LINK)

November 19-20 — Can’t find the arsonist? Sue the sofa-maker. “With the two-year statute of limitations almost up, lawyers representing victims of New Jersey’s Seton Hall University dormitory fire are working frantically to find parties to sue.

“The fire, which authorities believe was intentionally started, broke out in the Boland Hall dormitory on Jan. 19, 2000, killing three students and injuring 58 others. Seton Hall, which enjoys charitable immunity from suit, has settled out of court with some of the plaintiffs. Still, lawyers contemplate suits against other people who may have contributed to the conflagration — the arsonists, the maker of the sofa that ignited and any other potentially responsible parties.” (Charles Toutant, “Seton Hall Fire Victims’ Lawyers Still Scrambling to Identify Defendants”, New Jersey Law Journal, Nov. 14) (see June 1, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)

November 19-20 — By reader acclaim: football’s substance abuse policy challenged. “New England wide receiver Terry Glenn has sued the NFL, claiming a disability makes it difficult for him to adhere to certain rules in the league’s substance abuse policy. … Glenn filed the complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it did not specify what disability Glenn suffers. Glenn claims he should not have been suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for violation of the substance abuse policy.” (“Glenn’s suit doesn’t specify disabilities”, AP/ESPN, Nov. 4). Plus: reader Rick Derer, outraged by the Casey Martin episode, has put up an ADA horror stories website to call attention to what he terms “the worst law ever foisted on the American people”.

November 19-20 — Municipal gun suits on the run. Cause for thanksgiving indeed: the lawless and extortionate municipal gun-suit campaign has been encountering one setback after another. “In a major victory for gun manufacturers, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on [Nov. 16] upheld the dismissal of a suit brought by Camden County, New Jersey, that accused gun makers of creating a ‘public nuisance’ and sought to recoup the governmental costs associated with gun-related crimes.” Arguing the losing side were radical law prof David Kairys and class-action firm Berger & Montague. The three-judge panel was unanimous. (Shannon P. Duffy, “3rd Circuit Shoots Down Gun Suit Theory”, The Legal Intelligencer, Nov. 19). The city of Atlanta is desperately trying to keep its anti-gun suit alive in the face of legislation enacted by its parent state of Georgia making it as explicit as humanly possible that the city has no authority to press such a suit (Richmond Eustis, “Atlanta Asks State Appeals Court to Keep Alive Suit Against Gun Makers”, Fulton County Daily Report, Nov. 15).

Yale law professor Peter Schuck describes the gun lawsuits as based on the “most tenuous” theories yet of government rights of recoupment (“subrogation”) and tort law as “one of the last places” we should look to resolve the policy issues of gun control (“Smoking Gun Lawsuits”, American Lawyer, Sept. 10). And Bridgeport, Conn. mayor Joseph Ganim, who had taken perhaps the highest profile among Northeastern mayors in support of the gun suits, is likely to be less heard from for a while given his indictment last month on two dozen felony counts including extortion, bribery and mail fraud. (He denies everything.) (John Christoffersen, “In Connecticut, a growing and unwelcome reputation for corruption”, AP/Charleston (W.V.) Gazette, Nov. 16; Chris Kanaracus et al, “Ganim on the Spot” (pre-indictment coverage), Fairfield County Weekly, undated). See also Kimberley A. Strassel, “Bummer for Sarah Brady”, OpinionJournal.com, Nov. 15 (expressing optimistic view that municipal gun suits have been contained). (DURABLE LINK)

November 16-18 — Profiling perfectly OK after all. “State highway safety officials said they have received a $700,000 federal grant to help them crack down on two groups of chronic violators of the state’s seat belt law: drivers and passengers of pick-up trucks, and all male drivers and passengers between 18 and 55. … [Louisiana Highway Safety Commission Executive Director James] Champagne said state and federal studies have consistently shown pickup drivers and all male drivers are less likely to buckle up than any other groups of drivers or front-seat passengers. State law requires both the driver and front-seat passengers of vans, sports utility vehicles, cars and trucks to use seat belts. … Asked if the targeting of males and pickup drivers and passengers is profiling of a certain group, Champagne said, ‘Absolutely.'” To recap, then: the federal government strictly bans giving extra attention to 25-year-old males from Saudi Arabia at airport check-in. While they’re driving to the airport, on the other hand, it positively encourages them to be profiled. Perhaps the explanation is that it’s willing to swallow its scruples in order to combat really antisocial behavior — like failing to wear seat belts, as opposed to hijacking planes into buildings. (Ed Anderson, “Police to harness seat belt scofflaws”, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 10 — via InstaPundit). Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is soliciting racial-profiling plaintiffs in New Jersey. “The ACLU billboard, which went up last month, shows a photograph of two minority men and between them the words ‘Stopped or searched by the New Jersey State Police? They admit to racial profiling. You might win money damages,’ the sign reads. The ad includes the ACLU’s toll-free number.” (“Billboards in New Jersey Ask for Trooper Praise, Not Profiling Complaints”, FoxNews.com, Nov. 14).

November 16-18 — EEOC approves evacuation questions for disabled. To the relief of many in the business community, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has announced that it is not unlawful to ask workers about the state of their health for the purpose of formulating plans for emergency building evacuations. The September attacks called attention to the difficulty experienced in disaster situations by evacuees with such conditions as blindness, paraplegia, extreme obesity, and asthma. While employers may ask about problems that might impede evacuation, they should not insist on getting actual answers; EEOC officials recommend that they let each worker elect whether to disclose the information. The Americans with Disabilities Act has generally been interpreted as conferring on employees a broad legal right to conceal health problems from their employers. (Kirsten Downey Grimsley, “EEOC Approves Health Queries”, Washington Post, Nov. 1).

November 16-18 — Et tu, UT? Perhaps envying California its litigious reputation, the Supreme Court of Utah has ruled that it will not enforce releases in which parents agree to waive their children’s right to sue for negligence. The case involved a child thrown from a rented horse; the mother had signed a release before the accident, but then decided she wanted it invalidated so she could sue anyway. Attorney James Jensen, who represented defendant Navajo Trails, “listed many activities that now may be affected or curtailed, including school field trips, religious organization youth activities, scouting programs, amusement parks and ski resorts. ‘Anybody that provides recreational activities to minors,’ he said.” (Andrew Harris, “Utah High Court Says No Release of Liability to Children”, National Law Journal, Nov. 12).

November 15– “Poor work tolerated, employees say”. We keep hearing that if we were really serious about airport security we’d kick out those ill-paid Argenbright bag screeners and swear in a new 28,000-strong corps of federal employees to replace them. But a “new study concludes that federal workers themselves view many of their co-workers as poor performers who are rarely disciplined. The survey of 1,051 federal workers, conducted for the Brookings Institution’s Center for Public Service prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, found that on average federal employees believe 23.5 percent of their colleagues are ‘not up to par.’ Meanwhile, only 30 percent believe their organization does a very or somewhat good job of disciplining poor performers.” Those numbers are worse than the ones you get when you poll employees of private firms. At least when Argenbright botches things you can kick it out in favor of another contractor (Ben White, Washington Post, Oct. 30; Gregg Easterbrook, “Fighting the Wrong Fight”, The New Republic Online, Nov. 13).

November 15 — Lawyers’ immunity confirmed. In a dispute arising out of a developer’s plan to buy Fisher Island, home to many celebrities and wealthy persons, a Florida court has ruled that the developer cannot pursue a countersuit for tortious interference against residents who filed lawsuits aimed at derailing the deal, even if it can show they knew the suits to be unmeritorious. The court relied on a 1994 case in which the Florida Supreme Court ruled that an attorney’s acts in the course of litigation are subject to an “absolute” privilege: “We find that absolute immunity must be afforded to any act occurring during the course of a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the act involves a defamatory statement or other tortious behavior such as the alleged misconduct at issue, so long as the act has some relation to the proceeding.” Or, as the Miami legal paper puts it, “litigation itself is immune from litigation”. Put differently, people engaged in litigation boast an “absolute immunity” to engage in injurious behavior that would have a remedy at law if you or I tried it (Julie Kay, “Lawsuits of the Rich and Famous — and Their Two Dozen Law Firms”, Miami Daily Business Review, Nov. 1).

November 15 — Exxon Brockovich vs. Erin Valdez. The Ninth Circuit has struck down as excessive an Alaska jury’s $5 billion punitive award against Exxon over the Valdez oil spill, sending the case back for further litigation; compensatory damages are unaffected by the ruling (Henry Weinstein & Kim Murphy, “Court Overturns $5-Billion Judgment Against Exxon in ’89 Alaska Oil Spill”, L.A. Times, Nov. 8; Yahoo Full Coverage)(update Dec. 30, 2002: judge cuts award to $4 billion). Meanwhile, toxic-tort celebrity Erin Brockovich is helping spearhead a new effort to recruit plaintiffs from among the more than 15,000 workers who took part in the cleanup effort a dozen years ago, some of whom believe that it caused their health to take a turn for the worse. A Los Angeles Times account, after sympathetically relaying what would seem to be the most striking such cases the plaintiff’s team could come up with, concedes that “most health officials remain unconvinced that the cleanup left anyone sick”. (Nick Schulz, “Busy Bee Brockovich Looking to Sting Again”, TechCentralStation, Nov. 9; Kim Murphy, “Exxon Oil Spill’s Cleanup Crews Share Years of Illness”, L.A. Times, Nov. 5; Mary Pemberton, “Erin Brockovich probes Exxon complaints”, AP/ Anchorage Daily News, Nov. 6).

November 14 — “Rejoice, rejoice”. “[Y]esterday’s liberation of Kabul and much of the rest of Afghanistan is a great victory. … The moving scenes from the Afghan capital remind us … that most believing Muslims reject the rigorist insanity that bin Laden and the Taliban promote in their name, and are happy to worship God without having to wear a beard or a burqa. They can sing and dance again; women can work, and children can learn. The Taliban’s scorched-earth devastation of so many Afghan villages reveals their contempt for their own people, and their desertion of so many of their own Arab and Pakistani jihadis shows their capacity to betray. … Today, though, everyone who cast doubt on the possibilities of success and everyone who sneered at American ‘gung-ho’ should observe a period of silence. The rest of us should, to use a famous phrase from another war, ‘just rejoice rejoice'”. ((editorial), Daily Telegraph, Nov. 14; Paul Watson, “Taliban torturers on the run”, L.A. Times, Nov. 14; Christopher Hitchens, “Ha ha ha to the pacifists”, The Guardian, Nov. 14; Dexter Filkins, “In Fallen Taliban City, a Busy, Busy Barber”, New York Times, Nov. 13).

November 14 — Insurance market was in trouble before 9/11. With alarms being heard about an impending crisis in the availability of commercial insurance, it’s worth noting for the record that conditions were deteriorating rapidly in that market even before Sept. 11, mostly because insurers were pulling back from liability exposures: “Among the lines tightening the most are products liability, umbrella liability, contractor liability and nursing home liability, insurers and brokers say,” reported the July 2 issue of the trade publication Business Insurance. Also in scarce supply was coverage for “anything with an occupational disease exposure, like insulation and cell phones,” said one industry observer, Tom Nazar of Near North. “Generally, premiums for most liability lines are increasing anywhere from 25% to 60%,” with transportation risks seeing rate hikes of 100-200 percent and nursing homes 150 percent, said another insurance exec — all this well before the WTC attacks hit carriers with the largest losses from a single insured event in history. (Joanne Wojcik, “Transportation takes biggest hit in hardening market”, Business Insurance, July 2 (online subscribers only), and other contemporaneous coverage in the same publication). Directors’ and officers’ liability was another big problem area, especially for companies in fields such as high tech and telecom, financial services and health care. “The risks facing the steepest premium increases are pharmaceutical companies, nursing homes and contractors, especially organizations located in the litigious markets of California, Illinois and New York, insurance executives said.” In workers’ comp, “loss severity continues to deteriorate”.

And then there was asbestos: an August Standard & Poor’s report indicated that insurers were setting aside an additional $5-10 billion this year for asbestos claims, above earlier amounts reserved. “The implications to the insurance community are potentially devastating,” says the report. “Other analysts and ratings agencies recently have estimated that the insurance industry would need to put up as much as $20 billion to $40 billion more to cover their asbestos exposure. In May, ratings firm A.M. Best Co. calculated that insurers have set aside $10.3 billion to pay additional asbestos claims, having already paid out $21.6 billion.” A not-insubstantial portion of those sums, as we know, will go to compensate persons who are not sick from asbestos and never will be — raising once again the question of why we don’t try harder as a society to reserve the limited pool represented by insurance for situations where it’s really needed (Christopher Oster, “Insurers to Set Aside Additional Billions For Asbestos Claims”, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 1 (online subscribers only)). On proposals to bail out insurance markets since the attacks, see Scott Harrington and Tom Miller, “Insuring against terror”, National Review Online, Nov. 5. (DURABLE LINK)

November 14 — “Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition”. Why should American lawyers have all the fun? In a trial that began Monday in Essen, Germany, Hans-Josef Brinkmann, 46, a judge in the east German town of Neubrandenburg, says the beverage company is partly responsible for his developing diabetes after drinking two bottles of Coca-Cola a day for years. He further “disputes the contention of the drinks company that Coca Cola is a ‘flawless foodstuff’ … Brinkmann plans to bring a similar case against Masterfoods, manufacturers of Mars Bars, Snickers and Milky Way chocolate candy, in January.” Whether Herr Brinkmann wins or loses these suits, we hope he’ll come to America — we bet he’d have no trouble landing a job at one of our law schools. (AFP/Times of India, Nov. 14) (more).

November 13 — From the paint wars: a business’s demise, a school district’s hypocrisy. “Sherwin-Williams Co. acquired Mautz Paint Co. Thursday after the local company said it could no longer afford facing a costly lawsuit filed by the city of Milwaukee. Bernhard F. ‘Biff’ Mautz, the company’s chairman of the board, said negotiations to sell the [family-owned] firm intensified in April after the city of Milwaukee filed suit seeking more than $100 million in damages over the manufacture of lead-based paints decades ago.

“‘Although we believe the city’s case is meritless and Mautz will ultimately be absolved of any responsibility, for the first time in our history we were faced with years of litigation, which even if (the plaintiff was) unsuccessful, would destroy our small company,’ he said. …

“The sale price was not released, but Mautz President Dan Drury said it was discounted to reflect the costs of the lawsuit. Founded in 1892, Mautz employed 260 people at its 33 retail stores and manufacturing plant. It had sales of $32 million last year. …

“Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce said the sale of the one of Madison’s oldest businesses will make it more difficult for the state to attract new businesses. ‘This is a sad day in the state of Wisconsin,’ said James S. Haney, the organization’s president. ‘This is every business person’s worst nightmare. Mautz got in the gun sights of the contingency fee trial lawyers and the bureaucrats and now another homegrown locally owned business with strong ties to the community is gone.'” (“Mautz announces acquisition by Sherwin-Williams”, AP/Janesville (Wis.) Gazette, Nov. 9).

Meanwhile: In Houston, where contingency-fee lawyers have been recruiting local school districts to go after paint companies, the lawsuit filed by the Spring Branch School District claims that residual paint from decades past exposes students and teachers to “a substantial risk of lead poisoning” — a dramatic charge indeed. Which left Jon Opelt, executive director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Houston and the parent of a child in the district, wondering why “the school district has never notified me, as a parent, of the presence of any health or safety risks related to lead. No cautionary notes have been sent home with my children. No alarming studies have been released discussing the severity of the problem in our schools.'”

Which naturally raises the question: is there a genuine lead hazard, which the district has been covering up from parents, or just a phony hazard, which their lawyers are conjuring up in an effort to squeeze money from manufacturers? Opelt: “Ron Scott, a lawyer for the school district, is quoted in a Houston Chronicle article as saying: ‘This isn’t a panic issue. People don’t need to feel their schools are unsafe.’ Duncan Klussmann, a district administrator, told me, ‘Your child is not at risk.’ These are the very same people who signed onto a lawsuit that says there is a ‘substantial risk of lead poisoning.’ What are we to believe? District officials are telling parents their schools are safe but their lawsuit demands millions of dollars for addressing a dangerous situation caused by lead paint. Both cannot be true.” (CALA Houston website, “Parent Urges School District To “Get The Lead Out“, “Contrary to Other Reports“, David Waddell, “Why Should Safety Be a Secret?“, Annette Baird, “District: Lead-paint concerns in check”, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 17). (DURABLE LINK)

November 13 — Update: ousted quartet member wins damages. “A Pennsylvania judge has ordered three members of the Audubon Quartet to pay their former colleague David Ehrlich more than $600,000 in damages, adding yet another dramatic twist to the legal battle that has largely silenced the internationally acclaimed quartet since February 2000 and cost the group its home at Virginia Tech.” (Kevin Miller, “Ousted quartet member should receive damages, judge rules”, Roanoke Times, Oct. 16; “In Support of the Audubon Quartet“; summary of court opinion) (see June 5, 2000, June 14, 2001). Update May 10-12, 2002: defendants could lose house.

November 13 — Women’s rights: British law, or Islamic? According to columnist Theodore Dalrymple of The Spectator, a misguided multiculturalism has led authorities in the United Kingdom to adopt a hands-off policy toward some British Muslim families’ trampling of their young daughters’ rights (“The abuse of women”, Oct. 27).

November 12 — “Morales trying to ‘clear the air’ before campaign”. Many assumed the political career of former Texas attorney general Dan Morales was dead, dead, dead after allegations began flying in the papers about the circumstances under which he’d hired outside lawyers to represent the state in the tobacco affair and share one of the largest fee windfalls in history (see Sept. 1-3, 2000). But now Morales wants to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Phil Gramm and is insisting with new vehemence that he never acted improperly and that it’s all been a misunderstanding. Two of his lawyers have “asked a state district court in Austin to let Morales lay the groundwork for a possible defamation suit by taking the sworn testimony of four former associates. Morales wants to question John Eddie Williams Jr. of Houston — one of five trial lawyers who shared $3.3 billion in legal fees from the tobacco case — and three former assistants in the attorney general’s office — Harry Potter of Austin and Jorge Vega and Javier Aguilar of San Antonio. He indicated that Williams and Potter, who was actively involved in the tobacco suit, could be targets of any suit he may file.” Pull up a chair, this promises to be interesting (Clay Robison, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 7). Morales also continues to deny “allegations by Houston trial lawyer Joe Jamail that Morales improperly solicited $1 million from each of several lawyers he considered hiring for the tobacco suit.”

November 12 — Short-sellers had right to a drop in stock price. At least that’s the premise underlying this press release and lawsuit from a class action law firm seeking the right to sue on behalf of short-sellers who feel their speculative bets against the stock of Intelli-Check Inc. were stymied by the company’s allegedly over-sunny fiscal projections. (“Speziali, Greenwald & Hawkins, PC Announces the Filing of a Class Action Suit on Behalf of Short-Sellers of Intelli-Check, Inc. (Amex: IDN) Securities”, Yahoo/PR Newswire, Oct. 18).

November 12 — “U.S. Debates Info on Chemical Hazards”. “Separate hearings in the House and Senate [were] held this week to reassess the safety of chemical and industrial facilities in the light of recent terrorist attacks. A key policy at stake is the so-called ‘right to know’ law, which requires the federal government to publicly disclose sensitive information about facilities around the country that could be used by terrorists to target the most dangerous locations.” Jeremiah Baumann, a spokesman for the Nader-empire U.S. Public Interest Research Group, called for preserving public access to the sensitive information. “‘Let’s at least make the bad guys work for it,’ countered Amy E. Smithson, a chemical and biological weapons analyst for the Henry L. Stimson Center think tank.” Smithson said “[t]he Clinton EPA’s decision to post those plans for some 15,000 plants on the Internet in August 2000 ‘wasn’t just bad, it was colossally bad’.” (John Heilprin, AP/Yahoo, Nov. 8) (see Oct. 1). More: Carol D. Leonnig and Spencer S. Hsu, “Fearing Attack, Blue Plains Ceases Toxic Chemical Use”, Washington Post, Nov. 10 (chlorine use at Washington sewage treatment plant); Jonathan Adler, “How the EPA Helps Terrorists”, National Review Online, Sept. 27; “Environmental Danger”, Oct. 11; Angela Logomarsini, “Laws that Make Terror Easy”, New York Post, Oct. 12; “‘Right To Know’ Hearings – Taking Away Terrorist Tools”, Competitive Enterprise Institute press release, Nov. 7.


November 30-December 2 — Be somewhat less afraid. Notwithstanding a scare campaign by antinuclear activists including the egregious Robert F. Kennedy Jr., two physicists argue that U.S. nuclear power plants are not likely to top the list of targets of opportunity for terrorists seeking to inflict mass casualties (Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford, “Terrorism and Nuclear Power: What are the Risks?”, National Center for Policy Analysis Analysis #374, November; “NY Nuclear Plant Shutdown Sought Pending Security Review”, AP/Dow Jones/Business Times, Nov. 9 (RFK Jr. compares Indian Point facility near NYC to nuclear bomb); NCPA “Ten Second Response” series, “Media Overplays Risk of Terrorist Attacks on Nuclear Power Plants”, Nov. 16). California agricultural officials are seeking to calm public fears that Central Valley crop dusters furnish a likely method of attack on major urban targets; among the planes’ limitations are their constricted range and speed (Michael Mello, “Crop-dusters nothing to fear, officials told”, Modesto Bee, Nov. 29). And for a really contrarian view, U.S. Army veteran Red Thomas has written a short essay on why, if you possess fairly minimal civil defense smarts, you’re likely to survive a chemical, biological or even radiological attack. (“The Real Deal — Words of Wisdom About Gas, Germs, and Nukes” — Snopes.com, via Libertarian Samizdata and Rallying Point weblogs).

November 30-December 2 — “U.S. Judge Dismisses All but One Columbine Lawsuit”. “A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed all but one lawsuit filed against police and all claims lodged against a school district by victims and relatives of people killed and injured in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, lawyers said.” (Yahoo/Reuters, Nov. 27)

November 30-December 2 — Whiplash days: a memoir. Back in 1992, actor/writer Thomas M. Sipos (books: Vampire Nation, Manhattan Sharks, Halloween Candy) answered a help wanted ad in Los Angeles’s newspaper for lawyers and took a job with a high-volume personal injury law firm. He’s now published on his website a memoir of that experience, entitled “How To Make Money In Soft Tissue Injury” — names changed to protect the not necessarily innocent.

November 30-December 2 — Rejecting an Apple windfall. The news that a disgruntled Apple employee had filed a race discrimination lawsuit seeking $40 million from the computer maker prompted this reaction from one African-American who recalls his own run-in with prejudice at a high-tech employer (AppleLinks, “Moore’s Mailbag”, letter from Marvin Price, Nov. 9; Duncan Campbell, “Apple faces £27m ‘race bias’ lawsuit”, The Guardian, Nov. 9).

November 29 — “Patriot Act would make watchdogs of firms”. “Ordinary businesses, from bicycle shops to bookstores to bowling alleys, are being pressed into service on the home front in the war on terrorism. Under the USA Patriot Act, signed into law by President Bush late last month, they soon will be required to monitor their customers and report ‘suspicious transactions’ to the Treasury Department — though most businesses may not be aware of this.” (Scott Bernard Nelson, Boston Globe, Nov. 18).

Broadcaster Neal Boortz, who unlike many lawmakers actually sat down and read the text of the USA Patriot Act, spells out the details of what this means: “if you go to a business [not just a bank] and spend more than $10,000 in cash that business has to report your name, address, social security number and other pertinent information to the feds. It doesn’t matter whether you spend the money on one item, or a whole shopping cart full … the federal government must be notified.” He adds: “This has absolutely nothing to do with international terrorism” — at least not the variety practiced by the Sept. 11 killers, who used credit cards and “did not deal in large amounts of cash. … They never spent $10,000 in cash with any business. In short, they never engaged in any activity that would have to be reported under Section 365.” (Neal Boortz, “Neal’s Nuze: The ‘Patriot’ Act???”, Nov. 20). In fact, the Treasury Department has been hoping to extend federal “money laundering” law in this manner for years; it just wasn’t pressing an anti-terrorism rationale for doing so (see “Lost in the Wash”, Reason, March 1999). According to Gabriel Schoenfeld in Commentary, one of the conclusions of former CIA counterterrorism deputy director Paul R. Pillar in a major new study of terrorism policy for Brookings is that financial controls are primarily of “symbolic” importance in combating terrorism, which unlike drug trafficking typically involves the transfer of only smallish sums. (“Could September 11 Have Been Averted?”, Commentary, December).

November 29 — Taco Bell a liquor purveyor? Well, no, you can’t buy booze at its outlet in Fort Smith, Ark. However, after several of its employees there attended a party together on their own time, one got into a fatal traffic accident, and before you can say “Yo quiero deep pockets” the lawyers had figured out who they really wanted to blame (Jeff Arnold, “Taco Bell Attorneys Seek Dismissal”, Fort Smith Times-Record, Nov. 9). Update Feb. 20: case settled.

November 29 — Lutefisk as toxic substance, and other reader letters. A Wisconsin attorney writes to say that his state’s employee right-to-know law specifically excludes the Scandinavian discomfort food from being considered a toxic substance; and we hear about precedents for Sept. 11 litigation, the proper response to malicious email pranks, and whether judges should expect any more privacy than the people who appear before them.

November 29 — “North America’s most dangerous mammal”. It’s not the grizzly bear or mountain lion, but adorable Bambi: deer-car collisions kill 130 Americans a year and seriously injure many more. Meanwhile, “nearly all the venison served in America’s finest restaurants is imported from places like New Zealand (where deer are an exotic species).” One idea for getting more on platters and fewer on fenders: reconsidering old laws restricting traffic in hunted game. (Ronald Bailey, Reason, Nov. 21).

November 28 — Bioterror unpreparedness. First the government does its best to render the making of vaccines uneconomic; then it declares that the private sector has failed and vaccine production must be federalized (Sam Kazman & Henry I. Miller, “Uncle Sam’s Vaccines”, National Review Online, Nov. 26; Naomi Aoki, “Nation wants vaccines, but drug makers remain wary of the risks”, Boston Globe, Nov. 14). Meanwhile, the haste with which politicians like Sen. Charles Schumer and anti-intellectual-property activists called (quite unnecessarily) for abrogating Bayer’s patent in its antibiotic Cipro helped send the worst possible signal to drug companies’ research budgeters about the safety of their investments (James Surowiecki, “No Profit, No Cure”, The New Yorker, Nov. 5; John E. Calfee, “Bioterrorism and Pharmaceuticals: The Influence of Secretary Thompson’s Cipro Negotiations”, draft, American Enterprise Institute, Nov. 1).

November 28 — Oklahoma forensics scandal, cont’d. The Washington Post has a substantial front-page piece catching up with it. “Already, a reexamination of [Joyce Gilchrist’s] work has freed a convicted rapist and a death row inmate, overturned a death sentence, and called into question the evidence used to execute a man last year.” (Lois Romano, “Police Chemist’s Missteps Cause Okla. Scandal”, Nov. 26)(see May 9).

November 28 — “Does reading grades aloud invade privacy?” The Supreme Court has now heard arguments on that very strange case (see June 27) in which a teacher who allowed students to rate each other’s performance on an exam was accused of violating federal “educational privacy” laws. (Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 27; Frank J. Murray, “Students’ grading papers passes Supreme Court’s test”, Washington Times, Nov. 28; Marcia Coyle, “High Court Faces First School Records Case”, National Law Journal, Nov. 13). Update: high court rules practice not unlawful (Feb. 22, 2002).

November 28 — Fiat against further fatherhood. The Wisconsin Supreme Court “has upheld a ban preventing a man who owes thousands of dollars in child support from having any more children. The court ruled that David Oakley, a father of nine, would be imprisoned if he had another child, unless he was able to prove that he would pay support for both that child and his current offspring.” (BBC, “Baby ban on US child support shirker”, Nov. 24).

November 27 — U.K. to compensate relatives who saw WTC attack on TV. “British families who watched their relatives die during live television coverage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center may receive compensation for the trauma they suffered. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), which normally compensates people who witness in person a relative killed or injured in Britain, has taken the unprecedented decision that people who watched coverage of the 11 September attacks should be eligible for payments. … Those eligible will receive payouts of between £1,000 and £500,000, although the average level will be an estimated £20,000.” Under earlier rules, such payouts were made only in cases where family members witnessed crimes that took place in Great Britain. Critics complain that the U.K. is developing a “compensation culture”. (Matthew Beard, “British families of New York victims may be compensated for trauma”, The Independent, Nov. 19; Dominic Kennedy, “Surprise payout for relatives who saw attack on TV”, The Times, Nov. 19; Sarah Womack, “Cash plan for British TV witnesses”, Daily Telegraph, Nov. 19).

November 27 — Target: ethnic-immigrant landlords. Latest shock-horror on the housing front: many ethnic immigrant landlords prefer to rent units to members of their own minority group. Who knew? Such patterns have been detected among “Cambodians in Long Beach, Latinos in El Monte and Taiwanese in Rosemead”; some landlords, it seems, will take tenants from their own state in Mexico but not from other states in Mexico. The L.A. Times lends a sympathetic ear to civil rights activists who send out “testers” to catch such building owners and supers in the act, though the article does not explore the hefty financial rewards sometimes available when activists succeed in these missions (see “Tripp Wire”, Reason, April 1998). The article quotes no critics of the law, but does unveil yet another demand coming down the pike: “In California, advocates say the state should require antidiscrimination training for landlords.” (Sue Fox, “Mi Casa No Es Su Casa”, L.A. Times, Nov. 21).

November 27 — Columnist-fest. Very topical stuff today:

* The proposed settlement of (some of) the private Microsoft class actions (donations of outdated product to school districts, which could entrench the company even more as standard-setter) may be absurd, but blame that on the absurdity of the underlying lawsuits themselves, argues Nick Schulz (“‘You’re an Evil Predator; Now Teach My Kids'”, TechCentralStation.com, Nov. 23; Matthew Fordahl, “Few criticize Microsoft deal”, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Nov. 24).

* Canada’s super-liberal asylum policies are coming under a lot more scrutiny (Christie Blatchford, “Canada and terrorism: programmed to receive”, National Post, Nov. 24; “Canada probes 14,000 refugees”, Nov. 24)(see Sept. 14-16). See Cindy Rodriguez, “Suspects take advantage of liberal asylum program”, Boston Globe, Nov. 23 (tossed grenades at airliner, now collects welfare in Ontario).

* “A desperately needed bill to protect the nation’s insurance industry and the greater economy after Sept. 11 remains in dire peril, thanks to the financial pressure group that exerts the most influence over the Democratic Party: the plaintiff trial lawyers of America.” (Robert Novak, “Politics as usual”, syndicated/TownHall, Nov. 22).

November 26 — Utah: rescue searchers sued. “The family of Paul Wayment and his son Gage have filed claims against searchers who did not find 2-year-old Gage before he froze to death last year. The family of Paul Wayment is seeking more than $3 million. Paul Wayment committed suicide after being sentenced to jail for negligent homicide in his son’s death. The family is accusing searchers of being negligent in their efforts to find Gage and are seeking more than $2 million in damage for the deaths of father and son.” (Pat Reavy, “Wayment kin sue searchers”, Deseret News, Nov. 21; Jim Woolf, “Multimillion-Dollar Claim Filed By Wayments Against Searchers”, Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 21; Lucianne.com thread).

November 26 — “Smokers Told To Fetter Their Fumes”. In suburban Washington, D.C., the Montgomery County, Md. council has approved a measure setting stiff fines for residents who smoke at home if their neighbors object. “Under the county’s new indoor air quality standards, tobacco smoke would be treated in the same manner as other potentially harmful pollutants, such as asbestos, radon, molds or pesticides. If the smoke wafts into a neighbor’s home — whether through a door, a vent or an open window — that neighbor could complain to the county’s Department of Environmental Protection. Smokers, and in some cases landlords or condominium associations that fail to properly ventilate buildings, would face fines of up to $750 per violation if they failed to take steps to mitigate the problem.” “This does not say that you cannot smoke in your house,” said council member Isiah Leggett (D-At Large). “What it does say is that your smoke cannot cross property lines.” Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s capital area chapter, expressed unease over the proposal, but George Washington U. law prof and anti-smoking activist John Banzhaf, who has been known to give class credit to students for suing people, calls it a “major step forward”. (Jo Becker, Washington Post, Nov. 21; Jacob Sullum, “The Home Front”, Reason Online, Nov. 27) (see also Oct. 5-7). Update: plan is dropped after storm of criticism (Jo Becker, “Global Ridicule Extinguishes Montgomery’s Anti-Smoking Bill”, Washington Post, Nov. 28).

November 26 — After racist gunman’s assault, a negligent-security suit. “A San Fernando judge is set to decide if the North Valley Jewish Community Center can be sued for failing to protect 5-year-old Benjamin Kadish from a racist gunman who opened fire inside the Granada Hills facility in August 1999, injuring the boy and four others. Benjamin’s parents, Eleanor and Charles Kadish, sued the center in April, claiming the center’s officials should have known the facility ‘was a target for anti-Semitic attacks’ and taken appropriate security precautions, such as locking entrances and hiring guards.” Defense lawyers for the center call the Kadishes’ lawsuit “inappropriate, divisive and utterly unsupported by the law”. “There cannot be a duty on the [center] to prevent the likes of Buford Furrow from doing this terrible thing,” attorney Scott Edelman said. “They are suing a victim.” (Jean Guccione, “Judge to Rule on Suit Over Shooting”, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 19).

November 23-25 — Disposable turkey pan litigation. The National Law Journal‘s Gail Diane Cox decided to follow up on some of the suits that get filed after each holiday season against makers of disposable turkey roasting pans, alleging that the pans buckled or collapsed causing personal injuries to result from oven-hot birds or drippings. Attorney Matthew Willens of the Rapoport Law Offices in Chicago said his office’s case on behalf of a 69-year-old Illinois woman hurt in a pan incident on Thanksgiving Day 1995 settled for “a decent amount, if not the millions that some of these cases seek,” but that his office did not pursue opportunities for cases brought in by resultant publicity: “We didn’t want to become known as the turkey pan guys.” (“Voir Dire: Thanksgiving law a turkey”, National Law Journal, Nov. 12, not online). (DURABLE LINK)

November 23-25 — “School sued over poor results”. One we missed last month from the U.K. educational scene: “A student is suing her former school, claiming poor teaching was to blame for her failure to achieve a top grade at A-level. Kate Norfolk, who attended £4,000 per term independent school Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex, says she was not properly prepared for her Latin A-level. … Her family has issued a writ to the High Court, seeking £150,000 to cover the loss of future earnings, school fees and compensation for the distress caused.” (BBC, Oct. 1).

November 23-25 — Australian roundup. In Australia, Supreme Court Justice Peter McClellan has ruled against Kane Rundle’s claim for more than $1 million in compensation for brain damage suffered when, as he leaned out of a train carriage to spray-paint graffiti on a wall, his head collided with a stanchion. Rundle had argued that the State Rail Authority was negligent “because it had failed to ensure a carriage window could not be opened far enough to put his body through.” (Will Temple, Queensland Courier-Mail, Oct. 6). In the state of Victoria, a woman has won a $20,000 payout from the police for being handcuffed by police in a 1993 incident after she failed a breath test; police sources said the woman had “started banging her head against a wall for several minutes and was handcuffed to a chair [for five minutes] to stop her injuring herself” while the woman contended in a 1998 writ that the cuffed state had lasted a half hour and that she had been severely bruised. A police spokesman said the payout was made after considering the expected cost of fighting the claim and that the department did not concede any liability. “In the past 2 1/2 years, about $5 million has been paid out by police over alleged bashings, illegal arrests and jailings. Police have blamed ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers for fueling a flood of claims.” (Nick Papps, “$20,000 payout for handcuffing”, Sunday Herald-Sun (Melbourne), Sept. 9). However, a Perth bodysurfer dumped by a wave lost his case arguing that the local council breached its duty of care by not posting signs warning of the dangers of bodysurfing, leading one frustrated Aussie private citizen to post a formal declaration: “I hereby publicly totally renounce any duty of care to anybody. … If a person wants to commit suicide, it is not my duty to talk them out of it.” (“Ziggy”, “Blame Others for Your Mistakes“). (DURABLE LINK)

November 21-22 — Liability limits speed WTC recovery. How to help New York City and the commercial aviation business recover from the devastating blows of September? When the chips are down, there’s no substitute for reining in our system of unlimited liability and unpredictable punitive damages, as is being recognized in the WTC case by some unlikely candidates for the role of tort reformer, like New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer, both Democrats who have opposed liability limits in the past. Clinton and Schumer have now successfully pressed for legislation to protect the operator/leaseholder of the destroyed WTC, Larry A. Silverstein; the Port Authority; the city of New York; airport operators such as Boston’s Logan; and certain aircraft makers from the prospect of unlimited, ruinous liability in a decade or more of future litigation. Most of these entities will see their exposure limited to the extent of their insurance or, in the case of the self-insured city of New York, to $350 million, a figure that approximates the city’s annual payout for suits of all other kinds. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) went to bat for provisions protecting Boeing, which has large operations in Washington state; the airlines themselves were protected in an earlier round.

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) warns that various less obvious targets that wield less clout on the Hill, including World Trade Center architects, steel manufacturers, jet-fuel providers, and the state of New York, still face open-ended liability. You’d think this would be what educators call a teachable moment for longtime tort-reform opponents Hillary and Chuck, since they’ve now acknowledged that when it’s really necessary to pick up and keep going after disaster, some limits are needed on the power of their friends in the trial bar to keep the blame process in play forever. Unfortunately, both New York senators are signaling that the circumstances in this case were, um, unique, and that no other defendants worried about liability exposure should expect any sympathy from them. (DURABLE LINK)

SOURCES: “Hillary for Tort Reform” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Nov. 20 (online subscribers only); statement of Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman, House Judiciary Committee, Nov. 16; Christopher Marquis, “Measure Sets Liability Caps for New York and Landlord”, New York Times, Nov. 17; “War Profiteers” (editorial), OpinionJournal.com, Oct. 14; “War Profiteers II” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Nov. 8; and WSJ coverage: Jim VandeHei, “Airline-Security Bill Will Extend Liability Shield to Boeing, Others,” Nov. 16; Jim VandeHei and Milo Geyelin, “Bush Seeks to Limit the Liability Of Firms Sued as Result of Attacks”, Oct. 25; Jim VandeHei and Jess Bravin, “Lawmakers Work to Provide Liability Shields For Boeing, World Trade Center Leaseholder”, Oct. 24.

November 21-22 — “They’re back!” No, this isn’t the first parody of what will happen if apprehended Al-Qaeda terrorists hire big-name American trial lawyers to get them off, but it’s one of the funnier ones (Victor Davis Hanson, National Review Online, Nov. 20). See also Jonathan Kay, “Bullets over barristers”, National Post, Oct. 13; Michelle Malkin, “No more jury trials for terrorists”, TownHall.com, Oct. 24; James S. Robbins, “Bring on the Dream Team!”, National Review Online, Oct. 9. Incidentally: here’s an inspiring photo weblog of Afghan liberation (via Matt Welch).

November 21-22 — Fight over dog’s disposition said to cost taxpayers $200K. An eight-year legal battle over a Lhasa Apso by the name of Word, alleged by the city of Seattle to be vicious, has at last ended with the dog’s reprieve. “Attorneys for Word’s owner say the fight has cost taxpayers well over $200,000.” (Sara Jean Green, “Canine con gets reprieve after eight years”, Seattle Times, Nov. 14).

November 21-22 — Welcome SmarterTimes readers. Ira Stoll’s invaluable New York Times-watching service gave us a nice mention Tuesday in a discussion of an absurdly one-sided piece the Times ran on the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Nov. 20, see bottom). Also linking us recently: India’s Bombay Bar Association (“Law-U.S.”); Duke Update Morning Run (college sports); John Brignell’s NumberWatch from the U.K. (a site “devoted to the monitoring of the misleading numbers that rain down on us via the media”); Citizen’s Coalition for Children’s Justice (zero tolerance abuses); CPA Wizard; National Anxiety Center; Jim’s Cop Stuff; Egotist (“The mildly libertarian stance bothers me but that aside this site seems to actually have something to say, which is sadly not the rule on the internet”); Randleman Land; weblogs More Than Zero (Andrew Hofer), LawSchoolCrazy, Nov. 17 (Jorge Schmidt, Univ. of Miami — “Every once in a while I need a reality check. Nothing is better at reminding me what most people think of lawyers, and the law, than the outstanding Overlawyered.com site”), What the…? (Andrew Shulman — “find out how funny and sad our legal system is”). Best wishes to all of you, and happy Thanksgiving.

May 2001 archives


May 10 — “Barbecue group sued over contest”. Jim Woodsmall of Jumpin’ Jim’s BBQ in Johnston, Ia., has sued the Kansas City Barbeque Society, charging that his business has suffered because the society has failed to award his barbecue recipe the stellar ratings he feels it deserved. The enthusiast group fails to follow impartial and uniform rules in its cook-offs, Woodsmall claims, which he thinks amounts to fraud and negligence. (Lindsey A. Henry, Des Moines Register, May 8).

May 10 — Fortune on Lemelson patents. We’ve run a couple of items on the amazing Jerome Lemelson patent operation (see Jan. 19, 2001 and August 28, 1999) and now Fortune weighs in with the best overview we’ve seen. Lemelson, who died in 1997, filed patents for hundreds of ideas and industrial processes which he said he had invented, and which underlay such familiar modern technologies as VCRs, fax machines, bar-code scanners, camcorders and automated warehouses. A mechanical genius? Well, at least a genius in figuring out the angles that could be worked with American patent law: by filing vague patents and then arranging to delay their issuance while amending their claims to adjust to later technological developments, Lemelson steered them into the path of unfolding technology, eventually securing bonanzas for his tireless litigation machine. Foreign-owned companies folded first because they were afraid of American juries, which helped give Lemelson the war chest needed to break the resistance of most of the big U.S.-based industries as well. $1.5 billion in royalties later, his estate continues to sue some 400 companies, with many more likely to be added in years to come. (Nicholas Varchaver, “The Patent King”, May 14).

May 10 — Prospect of $3 gas. One reason refinery disruptions lead to big spikes in the price of gasoline at the pump: environmental rules end up mandating a different blend of gas for each state, hampering efforts to ship supplies to where they’re most needed. (Ron Scherer, “50 reasons gasoline isn’t cheaper”, Christian Science Monitor, May 4; Ben Lieberman (Competitive Enterprise Institute), “Skyrocketing Ga$: What the Feds Can Do”, New York Post, April 23, reprinted at CEI site).

May 10 — Welcome Norwegian readers. We get discussed, and several of our recent news items summarized, on the “humor” section of Norway’s Spray Internet service (Bjørn Tore Øren, “For mange advokater”, May 8). Among other non-U.S. links which have brought us visitors: Australia’s legal-beat webzine, Justinian (“A journal with glamour — yet no friends”; more); Baker & Ballantyne, in the U.K.; the Virtual Law Library pages on media law compiled by Rosemary Pattenden at the University of East Anglia; and Sweden’s libertarian- leaning Contra.nu (“Har advokatkåren i USA för stort inflytande?” they ask of us)(more).

May 9 — Oklahoma forensics scandal. After serving fifteen years in prison on a 1986 rape conviction, Jeffrey Pierce was released Monday after new DNA evidence refuted testimony against him by a forensic specialist whose work is the subject of a growing furor. “From 1980 to 1993, Joyce Gilchrist was involved in roughly 3,000 cases as an Oklahoma City police laboratory scientist, often helping prosecutors win convictions by identifying suspects with hair, blood or carpet fibers taken from crime scenes.” Although peers, courts and professional organizations repeatedly questioned the competence and ethical integrity of her work, prosecutors asked few questions, perhaps because she was getting them a steady stream of positive IDs and jury verdicts in their favor. Now Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating has ordered an investigation of felony cases on which Gilchrist worked after an FBI report “found she had misidentified evidence or given improper courtroom testimony in at least five of eight cases the agency reviewed.” (Jim Yardley, “Flaws in Chemist’s Findings Free Man at Center of Inquiry”, New York Times, May 8; “Inquiry Focuses on Scientist Used by Prosecutors”, May 2)(reg)

May 9 — Not about the money. Foreign policy making on a contingency fee: “When attorneys agreed to champion the causes of American victims of terrorism in the Middle East, it wasn’t supposed to be about the money.” We’ve heard that one before, haven’t we? “But the prospect of multimillion-dollar fees in what once seemed to be long-shot litigation against Iran has left lawyers fighting over fees in federal court in Washington, D.C. High principles of international law and justice aren’t at stake. It’s simply a matter of who gets paid.” (Jonathan Groner, “Anti-Terrorism Verdicts Spur Big Fee Fights”, Legal Times, April 18).

May 9 — Update: cookie lawsuit crumbles. Half-baked all along, and now dunked: a federal court in March dismissed a would-be class action lawsuit against web ad agency DoubleClick over its placing of “cookies” on web users’ hard drives. Other such suits remain pending (see also Feb. 2, 2000); this one was brought by Milberg Weiss’s Melvyn Weiss and by Bernstein, Litowitz (Michael A. Riccardi, “DoubleClick Can Keep Hand in Cookie Jar, Federal Judge Rules”, New York Law Journal, March 30).

May 8 — “Lawyers to Get $4.7 Million in Suit Against Iomega”. “Lawyers in a class action suit alleging defects in portable computer Zip disk drives will get the only cash payout, up to $4.7 million, in a proposed settlement with manufacturer Iomega Corp., according to the company’s Web site.” Rebates of between $5 and $40 will be offered to past customers who buy new Iomega products, while Milberg Weiss and three other law firms expect to split their fees in crisp greenbacks, not coupons, if a Delaware judge approves the settlement in June. (Yahoo/Reuters, April 12) (Rinaldi class action settlement notice, Iomega website).

May 8 — A definition (via Sony’s Morita and IBM’s Opel). “Litigious (li-TIJ-uhs) adjective: 1. Pertaining to litigation; 2. Eager to engage in lawsuits; 3. Inclined to disputes and arguments. [From Middle English, from Latin litigiosus from litigium, dispute.]

“‘My friend John Opel of IBM wrote an article a few years ago titled ‘Our Litigious Society,’ so I knew I was not alone in my view that lawyers and litigation have become severe handicaps to business, and sometimes worse.” — Sony co-founder Akio Morita (Wordsmith.org “A Word a Day” service, scroll to Jan. 26).

May 8 — “Halt cohabiting or no bail, judge tells defendants”. “A federal judge in Charlotte is using a 19th-century N.C. law banning fornication and adultery, telling defendants they won’t be freed on bond until they agree to get married, move out of the house or have their partner leave. U.S. Magistrate Judge Carl Horn won’t release a criminal defendant on bond knowing that he or she will break the law. And that includes North Carolina’s law against unmarried couples cohabiting, placed on the books in 1805.” (Eric Frazier and Gary L. Wright, Charlotte Observer, April 4) (see also May 18, 2000).

May 7 — Says cat attacked his dog; wants $1.5 million. “A San Marcos man has filed a $1.5 million claim against the city because a cat who lives in the Escondido Public Library allegedly attacked his dog.” Richard Espinosa says he was visiting the library on November 16 with his assistance dog Kimba, a 50-pound Labrador mix, when the feline, named L.C. or Library Cat because it’s allowed to live in the building, attacked the dog inflicting scratches and punctures. As for Espinosa, wouldn’t you know, he “was emotionally traumatized and suffers from flashbacks, terror, nightmares and other problems.” Four lawyers declined to take his case and he finally filed it himself. “The cat was apparently uninjured.” (Jonathan Heller, “Escondido gets $1.5 million claim; library cat allegedly assaulted dog”, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 4) (see letter to the editor from Espinosa, June 13).

May 7 — Judge throws out hog farm suit. As was reported a few months ago, a number of environmental groups aim to take a lesson from the tobacco affair by using mass lawsuit campaigns to pursue various goals which they haven’t been able to secure through the legislative and electoral process. To do this they’ve teamed up with tobacco-fee-engorged trial lawyers; the nascent alliance got lots of publicity in December with one of its first projects, suing Smithfield Farms for billions over the nuisance posed by large-scale hog farming, a project apparently masterminded by Florida trial lawyer Mike Papantonio (tobacco, asbestos, fen-phen) and with suits against chicken and livestock operations promised in later phases of the effort (see Dec. 7, 2000). Far less publicity has been accorded to Judge Donald W. Stephens’s ruling in March which threw out the first two lawsuits as having failed to state a legal claim against the large hog packer and raiser. (Appeal is expected.) Power scion Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is still on board with his headline-ready name to front for the lawyers in the press, but he doesn’t seem to have gone out of his way to call attention to the adverse ruling (“North Carolina judge dismisses lawsuits against hog producer”, AP/MSNBC, March 30; Scott Kilman, “Environmental groups target factory-style hog farm facilities”, Wall Street Journal/MSNBC, undated; Smithfield press release, March 29).

MORE: National Public Radio, “Living on Earth” with Steve Curwood and reporter Leda Hartman, week of Feb. 16; Water Keeper Alliance (Kennedy’s group), hog campaign homepage with list of lawyers (J. Michael Papantonio, Steven Echsner and Neil Overholtz, Levin, Papantonio, Pensacola, Fla.; Thomas Sobol, Jan Schlichtmann, Steven Fineman and Erik Shawn of Lieff, Cabraser, New York and Boston; F. Kenneth Bailey, Jr. and Herbert Schwartz of Williams Bailey, Houston; Howard F. Twiggs and Douglas B. Abrams of Twiggs, Abrams, (Raleigh, N.C.), Ken Suggs and Richard H. Middleton, Jr. of Suggs, Kelly & Middleton (Columbia, S.C.), Joe Whatley, Jr., Birmingham, Ala.; Kevin Madonna, Chatham, N.Y.; Stephen Weiss and Chris Seeger, New York; Charles Speer, Overland Park, Kan.; Hiram Eastland, Greenwood, Miss.) Compare “Conoco Could Face $500 Million Lawsuit Over Bayou Water Pollution Problems”, Solid Waste Digest: Southern Edition, March 2001 (page now removed, but GoogleCached) (Papantonio campaign in Pensacola).

May 7 — Website accessibility law hits the U.K. “Scottish companies were warned yesterday that they could face prosecution if their websites are not accessible to the disabled. Poorly-designed websites are often incompatible with Braille software.” (more) (yet more) (Pauline McInnes, “Firms warned on websites access”, The Scotsman, April 19).

May 4-6 — By reader acclaim: “Vegetarian sues McDonald’s over meaty fries”. Seattle attorney Harish Bharti wants hundreds of millions of dollars from the burger chain for its acknowledged policy of adding small amounts of beef flavoring to its french fries, which he says is deceptive toward vegetarian customers (ABCNews.com/ Reuters, May 3). Notable detail that hasn’t made it into American accounts of the case we’ve seen, but does appear in the Times of India: “When he is not practising law in Seattle, Bharti says he teaches at Gerry Spence’s exclusive College for Trial Lawyers in Wyoming”. Does this mean you can be a predator without being a carnivore? (“US Hindus take on McDonald’s over French fries”, Times of India, May 3) (see also Aug. 30, 1999).

May 4-6 — Mississippi’s forum-shopping capital. The little town of Fayette, Miss., reports the National Law Journal, is “ground zero for the largest legal attack on the pharmaceutical industry” in memory. Tens of thousands of plaintiffs are suing in the Fayette courthouse over claimed side effects from such drugs as fen-phen, Rezulin, and Propulsid, not because they’re local residents (most aren’t) but because the state’s unusually lax courtroom rules allow lawyers to bring them in from elsewhere to profit from the town’s unique brand of justice. The townspeople, nearly half of whom are below the poverty level and only half of whom graduated from high school, “have shown that they are willing to render huge compensatory and punitive damages awards”. Among other big-dollar outcomes, Houston plaintiff’s lawyer Mike Gallagher of Gallagher, Lewis, Serfin, Downey & Kim “helped win a $150 million compensatory damages verdict for five fen-phen plaintiffs in Jefferson County on Dec. 21, 1999. The jury deliberated for about two hours…” There’s just one judge in Fayette County to hear civil cases, Judge Lamar Pickard, whose handling of trials is bitterly complained of by out-of-town defendants. As for appeal, that route became less promising for defendants last November when plaintiff’s lawyers solidified their hold on the Mississippi Supreme Court by knocking off moderate incumbent Chief Justice Lenore Prather.

Lots of good details here, including how the Bankston Drug Store, on Main Street in Fayette since 1902, has the bad fortune to get named in nearly every suit because that tactic allows the lawyers to keep the case from being removed to federal court. Plaintiff’s lawyer Gallagher, who also played a prominent role in the breast implant affair, says criticism of the county’s jurors as easily played on by lawyers “‘sounds racist’, since the jury pool is predominantly black”. He also brushes off defendants’ complaints about forum-shopping with all the wit and sensibility at his command: “They want to tell me where I can sue them for the damage they caused? They can kiss my a**.” (Mark Ballard, “Mississippi becomes a mecca for tort suits”, National Law Journal, April 30).

May 4-6 — Agenda item for Ashcroft. Attorney General Ashcroft could make a real difference for beleaguered upstate New York communities by backing off the Justice Department’s Reno-era policy of avid support for revival of centuries-dormant Indian land claims, which went so far as to include the brutalist tactic of naming as defendants individual landowners whose family titles had lain undisturbed since the early days of the Republic (see Oct. 27, 1999, Feb. 1, 2000) (John Woods, “Long-Running Indian Land Claims in New York May Hinge on Ashcroft’s Stance”, New York Law Journal, April 16).

May 3 — “Family of shooting victim sue owners of Jewish day-care center”. If the gunman doesn’t succeed in wiping out your institution, maybe the lawyers will: “The parents of a boy who was shot by a white supremacist at a Jewish day-care center have filed a lawsuit claiming the center’s owners failed to provide the necessary security to prevent hate crime attacks.” Buford O. Furrow fired more than 70 shots at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles on Aug. 10, 1999 (AP/CNN, May 1).

May 3 — Update: mills of legal discipline. They grind slow, that’s for sure, but does that mean they grind exceeding fine? A disciplinary panel has ended its investigation of New Hampshire chief justice David Brock, letting him off with an admonishment, in the protracted controversy over the conduct (see April 5 and Oct. 11, 2000) which also led to his impeachment and acquittal in the state senate; Brock’s lawyer had threatened to sue the disciplinary panel if it continued its probe, and a dissenting committee member called that lawsuit-threat “intended to intimidate” (“Threat of lawsuit ended Brock case”, Nashua Telegraph, April 23; Dan Tuohy, “Finding bolsters call for reform”, Foster’s Daily Democrat, April 26). A hearing committee of the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility has recommended that Mark Hager be suspended for three years over the episode [see Feb. 23, 2000] in which he and attorney John Traficonte “began negotiations with [drugmaker] Warner-Lambert to make refunds to consumers, and to pay himself and Hager $225,000 in exchange for which they would abandon their representation, agree to hold the agreement and fee secret from the public and their clients, and promise not to sue Warner-Lambert in the future. Traficonte and Hager accepted the offer without first obtaining the approval of any class member.” The disciplinary committee “found that Hager’s conduct was shockingly outrageous, and that his status as a law professor was a factor in aggravation.” We’ve seen no indication that anyone in the administration of American University’s law school, where Hager continues to teach, has expressed the smallest misgivings about the example that students are supposed to take from his conduct (Denise Ryan, law.com D.C., Board on Professional Responsibility No. 31-98, In re Hager, issued Nov. 30, 2000). (Update Jul. 19, 2003: Hager resigns AU post in April 2003). And off-the-wall Michigan tort lawyer and politician Geoffrey Fieger faces charges 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 (“Fieger Under Fire For Alleged Swearing Fit”, MSNBC, April 17).

May 3 — “Valley doctors caught in ‘lawsuit war zone'”. A report from the Texas Board of Medical Examiners finds medical malpractice cases approximately tripled in 1999 in Texas’s McAllen-Brownsville region compared with the previous year. Among short-cuts lawyers are accused of employing: suing doctors without an authorization from the client, and hiring as their medical expert a family doctor who charges $500 an hour and has reviewed 700 cases for lawyers, second-guessing the work of such specialists as cardiovascular surgeons, but has not herself (according to an opposing lawyer) had hospital privileges since 1997. (James Pinkerton, Houston Chronicle, March 2 — via Houston CALA). State representative Juan Hinojosa has introduced a bill that would allow doctors and hospitals to countersue lawyers and clients who file suits with reckless disregard as to whether reasonable grounds exist for their action. (“Doctors seek new remedy to fight frivolous lawsuits”, CALA Houston, undated).

May 2 — Suing the coach. “A teenager, who felt she was destined for greatness as a softball player, has filed a $700,000 lawsuit against her former coach, alleging his ‘incorrect’ teaching style ruined her chances for an athletic scholarship. Cheryl Reeves, 19, of Rambler Lane in Levittown, also alleges that her personal pitching coach, Roy Jenderko, of Warminster, not only taught her an illegal style of pitching but also used ‘favorite players’ which resulted in demoralizing the teen. ” (Dave Sommers, “Legal Pitch”, The Trentonian, May 1).

May 2 — Trustbusters sans frontieres. Truly awful idea that surfaced in the press a while back: a bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) say they’re trying to pressure the Bush administration to file an antitrust suit against the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, accusing it of restricting the output of oil in order to raise prices to consumers in countries like ours — which is, of course, OPEC’s reason for existence. “Most antitrust and foreign policy experts interviewed say they cannot imagine a scenario in which such legal action would succeed, or that any president would risk his foreign policy goals for such a lawsuit”, reports the National Law Journal. But even the gesture of inviting unelected judges and unpredictable juries to punish sovereign foreign powers would increase the chances of our landing in a series of confrontations and international incidents that would be at best imperfectly manageable by the nation’s executive branch and diplomatic corps (which cannot, for example, necessarily offer to reverse or suspend court decisions as a bargaining chip).

The United States’s relations with OPEC countries, it will be recalled, have on occasion embroiled us in actual shooting wars, which are bad enough when entered after deliberation on the initiative of those to whom such decisions are entrusted in our system of separation of powers, and would be all the less supportable if brought on us by the doings of some rambunctious judge or indignant jury. Wouldn’t it be simpler for Sen. Specter to just introduce a bill providing that the courts of the United States get to run the world from now on? (Matthew Morrissey, “Senators to Press for Suing OPEC Over Pricing”, National Law Journal, March 1).

May 1 — Columnist-fest. Scourings from our bookmark file:

* Mark Steyn on the Indian residential-school lawsuits that may soon bankrupt leading Canadian churches (see Aug. 23, 2000): (“I’ll give you ‘cultural genocide'”, National Post, April 9). Bonus: Steyn on protectionism, globalization and Quebec City (“Don’t fence me in”, April 19).

* Federalists under fire: there’s a press campaign under way to demonize the Federalist Society, the national organization for libertarian and conservative lawyers and law students. The Society has done a whole lot to advance national understanding of litigation abuses and overuse of the courts — could that be one reason it’s made so many powerful enemies? (Thomas Bray, “Life in the Vast Lane”, OpinionJournal.com, April 17; Marci Hamilton, “Opening Up the Law Schools: Why The Federalist Society Is Invaluable To Robust Debate”, FindLaw Writ, April 25; William Murchison, “In Defense of the Federalist Society”, Dallas Morning News, April 25).

* A Bush misstep: the White House has named drug-war advocate and Weekly Standard contributor John P. Walters as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Walters, almost alone among those who have spent serious professional time on drug abuse in America, harbors no misgivings over the fact that we’ve been crowding our prisons almost to the bursting point with nonviolent drug offenders.” (William Raspberry, “A Draco of Drugs”, Washington Post, April 30) (Lindesmith Center).

* “Overreaching IP legal teams kick the firm they supposedly represent”: Seth Shulman of Technology Review on the “patented peanut butter sandwich” case (see Jan. 30). (“Owning the Future: PB&J Patent Punch-up”, May). Also: California judge William W. Bedsworth (“Food Fight!”, The Recorder, March 16).


May 18-20 — “Couple sues for doggie damages”. Claiming that their 4-year-old golden retriever Boomer was hurt by an “invisible fence” electronic collar device, Andrew and Alyce Pacher, of Vandalia, Ohio, want to name the dog itself as a plaintiff in the suit. “It’s my opinion that it’s clear dogs cannot sue under Ohio law,” says the fence company’s lawyer. But the Pachers’ attorney, Paul Leonard, a former lieutenant governor and ex-mayor of Dayton, says that’s exactly what he hopes to change: he’s “hoping to upgrade the legal status of dogs in Ohio.” (“Damages for Injuries Caused by Invisible Fence Sought for Dog”, AP/FoxNews.com, May 11).

May 18-20 — “Fortune Magazine Ranks ATLA 5th Most Powerful Lobby”. The business magazine finds that plaintiff’s lawyers have more clout in Washington than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the AFL-CIO; more than Hollywood or the doctors or the realtors or the teachers or the bankers. (Fortune, May 28; ATLA jubilates over its rise from 6th to 5th, May 15).

May 18-20 — Batch of reader letters. Our biggest sack of correspondence yet includes a note from a reader wondering if some open-minded attorney would like to help draft a loser-pays initiative for the ballot in Washington state; more about carbonless paper allergies, the effects of swallowing 9mm bullets, the Granicy trial in California, and “consumer columns” that promote lawyers’ services; a link between ergonomics and gun control controversies; and a reader’s dissent on the case of the boy ticketed for jaywalking after being hit by a truck.

May 17 — “Crash lawyers like Boeing move”. Attorneys who sue after midair mishaps are pleased that Boeing is planning to relocate its headquarters to Chicago. They say the courts of Cook County, Ill., hand out much higher verdicts than those of Seattle, the aircraft maker’s former hometown. Some lawyers in fact predict that domestic crashes, at least when the plane is Boeing-made, are apt to be sued in Cook County from now on regardless of where the flight originated or went down; under the liberal rules of forum-shopping that prevail in American courts, most big airlines may be susceptible to venue in the Windy City since they do at least some business there. (Blake Morrison, “Crash lawyers like Boeing move”, USA Today, May 16).

May 17 — Like a hole in the head. As if the nine private law schools in the state of Massachusetts weren’t enough, proponents now want to establish a public one by having the state take over the struggling Southern New England School of Law at North Dartmouth, near New Bedford. (Denise Magnell, “Crash Course”, Boston Law Tribune, May 1).

May 17 — Lessons of shrub-case jailing. The months-long contempt-of-court jailing of John Thoburn of Fairfax County, Va. for refusing to erect enough trees and shrubs around his golf driving range is a good example of the excesses of bureaucratic legalism, says Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher (“In Fairfax shrub fight, Both Sides Dig In Stubbornly”, April 26). Some of the county’s elected supervisors voice few misgivings about the widely publicized showdown, saying their constituents want them to be tougher in cracking down on zoning violations. (Peter Whoriskey and Michael D. Shear, “Fairfax Zoning Case Draws World Attention”, Washington Post, April 21) (freejohnthoburn.com).

May 16 — No baloney. “A suspected drug dealer who was served a bullet-and-bologna sandwich wants a side of lettuce — about $5 million worth. ” Louis Olivo says he was given an officially prepared lunch during a break in a Brooklyn Supreme Court hearing last week, and felt something “crunchy” which turned out to be a bullet. Surgery (not syrup of ipecac?) is expected to remove the 9mm bullet from Olivo’s stomach; his lawyer wants $5 million (Christopher Francescani, “$5M Lawsuit Over Bulletin in Bologna”, New York Post, May 15) (& letter to the editor, May 18)

May 16 — “Who’s afraid of principled judges?” More questions should be raised about a retreat held at Farmington, Pa. earlier this month in which 42 Democratic Senators were lectured on the need to apply ideological litmus tests to judicial nominees, writes Denver Post columnist Al Knight. (May 13). “Liberals rightly decried efforts a decade ago to turn membership in the American Civil Liberties Union into a disqualification for high office; current efforts to do the same thing to the Federalist Society are equally wrong. … In fact, they are the only group, liberal or conservative, that regularly sponsors debates throughout the nation’s law schools on important public-policy issues.” (Howard Shelansky, “Who’s Afraid of the Federalist Society?”, Wall Street Journal, May 15).

May 16 — Drawing pictures of weapons. In Oldsmar, Fla., an eleven-year-old “was taken from his elementary school in handcuffs after his classmates turned him in for drawing pictures of weapons.” (Ed Quioco and Julie Church, “Student removed from class because of drawings”, St. Petersburg Times, May 11; “Pinellas fifth grader cuffed, sent home after classmates turn him in for drawing weapons”, AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, May 11). In Sunderland, England, police raided Roland Hopper’s 11th birthday party and arrested him as he cut the cake after he was seen playing with the new pellet gun his mother had bought him (“Armed Police Raid 11th Birthday”, Newcastle Journal, April 10). And the website ztnightmares.com, which developed out of a controversy at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colo., “publicizes the downside or evils of zero tolerance school discipline policies” and has a noteworthy list of outside links as well as horror stories.

May 15 — “Judges or priests?”. Why have judicial nomination fights taken on the intensity and bitterness once associated with religious disputes? “The only places left in this country that could be described as temples — for that is how we treat them — are the courts. … They are temples because the judges who sit in them now constitute a priesthood, an oracular class … we have abdicated to them our personal responsibility and, in many cases, even what used to be the smallest judgment call a citizen had to make for himself.” (Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ OpinionJournal.com, May 11).

May 15 — Techies fear Calif. anti-confidentiality bill. Trial lawyers have been pushing hard for the enactment of legislation granting them wide leeway to disseminate to anyone they please much of the confidential business information they dig up by compulsory process in lawsuits. (At present, judges are free to issue “protective orders” which restrain such dissemination.) Proponents say lawyers will use this new power to publicize serious safety hazards that now remain unaired; critics predict they will use it to stir up more lawsuits and for general leverage against defendants who have been found guilty of no wrong but who don’t want the inner details of their business to fall into the hands of competitors or others. A lawyer-backed bill had been hurtling toward enactment in California following the Firestone debacle, but now a counterforce has emerged in the person of high-tech execs who say the proposal “could expose confidential company information, stifle innovation and encourage frivolous litigation. … TechNet CEO Rick White called the bills ‘the most significant threat to California’s technology companies since Prop. 211.’ White was referring to the 1996 initiative that would have made company directors and high-ranking executives personally vulnerable to shareholder lawsuits.” (Scott Harris, “Old Foes Squabble Over Secrecy Bills”, Industry Standard/Law.com, May 10).

May 15 — Canadian court: divorce settlements never final. The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that courts may revisit and overturn former divorce settlements if a “material change of circumstances” has taken place since the original deal. “Tens of thousands of people who believed they had agreed to a ‘final’ divorce settlement could face more financial demands … Family law lawyers predict a surge of legal attacks on separation agreements and marriage contracts as a result of the ruling.” (Cristin Schmitz, “Divorce deals never final: court”, Southam News/National Post, April 28).

May 14 — Write a very clear will. Or else your estate could wind up being fought over endlessly in court like that of musician Jerry Garcia (Kevin Livingston, “Garcia Estate Fight Keeps On Truckin'”, The Recorder, April 25; Steve Silverman, “Online Fans Sing Blues About Garcia Estate Wrangling”, Wired News, Dec. 16, 1996; Don Knapp, “Garcia vs. Garcia in battle for Grateful wealth”, CNN, Dec. 14, 1996). Or actor James Mason (A Star is Born, North by Northwest) (“He would have been horrified by all this. … he hated litigation”) (Caroline Davies, “James Mason’s ashes finally laid to rest”, Daily Telegraph (London), Nov. 25, 2000). Or timber heir H.J. Lutcher Stark of Orange, Texas, who died in 1965 and whose estate, with that of his wives, has spawned several rounds of litigation which look as far back for their subject matter as 1939 and are still in progress (William P. Barrett, “How Lawyers Get Rich”, Forbes, April 2 (reg)).

May 14 — City gun suits: “extortion parading as law”. To curb the use of officially sponsored litigation as a regulatory bludgeon, as in the gun suits, the Cato Institute’s Robert Levy recommends “a ‘government pays’ rule for legal fees when a governmental unit is the losing plaintiff in a civil case”. (Robert A. Levy, “Pistol Whipped: Baseless Lawsuits, Foolish Laws”, Cato Policy Analysis #400 (executive summary links to full paper — PDF))

May 14 — Update: “Messiah” prisoner’s lawsuit dismissed. In a 22-page opinion, federal district judge David M. Lawson has dismissed the lawsuit filed by a Michigan prisoner claiming recognition as the Messiah (see April 30). The opinion contains much to reward the curious reader, such as the list on page 5 of the inmate’s demands (including “5 million breeding pairs of bison” and “25,000 mature breeding pairs of every creature that exists in the State of Michigan,” and the passage on page 18 citing as precedent for dismissal similar previous cases such as Grier v. Reagan (E.D. Pa. Apr. 1, 1986), “finding that plaintiff’s claim she was God of the Universe fantastic and delusional and dismissing as frivolous complaint which sought items ranging from a size sixteen mink coat and diamond jewelry to a three bedroom home in the suburbs and a catered party at the Spectrum in Philadelphia”). (opinion dated April 26 (PDF), Michigan Bar Association site) (DURABLE LINK)

May 11-13 — Welcome Aardvark Daily readers (NZ). “New Zealand’s leading source of Net-Industry news and commentary since 1995” just referred us a whole bunch of antipodal visitors by featuring this website in its “Lighten Up” section. It says we offer “an aggregation of quirky and oddball legal actions which go to prove that the USA has far too many lawyers for its own good”. (Aardvark.co.nz). For NZ-related items on this site, check out July 26, Sept. 8 and Oct. 31, 2000, as well as “Look for the Kiwi Label”, Reason, July 2000, by our editor.

May 11-13 — New York tobacco fees. “An arbitration panel has awarded $625 million in attorneys’ fees to the six firms that were hired by New York state to sue the tobacco industry, say sources close to the arbitration report.” The well-connected city law firm of Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek & Shoot (which last year was reported to be renting office space to New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; see May 1, 2000) will receive $98.4 million. Three firms that took a major national role in the tobacco heist will share $343.8 million from the New York booty, to add to their rich haul from other states; they are Ness Motley, Richard Scruggs’ Mississippi firm, and Seattle’s Hagens & Berman. (Daniel Wise, “Six Firms Split $625 Million in Fees for New York’s Share of Big Tobacco Case,” New York Law Journal, April 24). Update Jun. 21-23, 2002: judge to review ethical questions raised by fee award.

May 11-13 — “Judges behaving badly”. The National Law Journal‘s fourth annual roundup of judicial injudiciousness includes vignettes of jurists pursuing personal vendettas, earning outside income in highly irregular ways, jailing people without findings of guilt, and getting in all sorts of trouble on matters of sex. Then there’s twice-elected Judge Ellis Willard of Sharkey County, Mississippi, who allegedly “fabricated evidence such as docket pages, arrest warrants, faxes [and] officers’ releases.” That was why he got in trouble, not just because he was fond of holding court in his Beaudron Pawn Shop and Tire Center, “a tire warehouse flanked by service bays on one side and a store that holds the judge’s collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia.” (Gail Diane Cox, National Law Journal, April 30).

May 11-13 — Update: Compaq beats glitch suit. In 1999, after Toshiba ponied up more than a billion dollars to settle a class action charging that its laptops had a glitch in their floppy drives, lawyers filed follow-on claims against other laptop makers whose machines they said displayed the same problem. But Compaq refused to settle, and now Beaumont, Tex. federal judge Thad Heartfield has felt constrained to dismiss the suit against it on the grounds that plaintiff’s lawyer Wayne Reaud had failed to show that any user suffered the requisite $5,000 in damages. (Daniel Fisher, “Billion-Dollar Bluff”, Forbes, April 16 (now requires registration)).


May 31 — Fieger’s firecrackers frequently fizzle. Famed lawyer Geoffrey Fieger extracts huge damage awards from Michigan juries in civil cases even more often than he manages to get Dr. Jack Kevorkian off the hook from criminal charges, but he does much less well when the big awards reach higher levels of judicial consideration. “In the last two years, Fieger and his clients have watched as judges, acting on appeal or post-trial motion, erased more than $55 million in jury verdicts,” including $15 million and $13 million verdicts against Detroit-area hospitals and a $30 million verdict, reduced by the judge to $3 million, arising from a Flint highway accident. Opponents say Fieger’s courtroom vilification of opponents and badgering of witnesses often impresses jurors but plays less well in the calmer written medium of an appellate record.

Appeals courts are now considering Fieger cases “totaling an estimated $50 million to $100 million … Among those cases is $25 million awarded in the infamous Jenny Jones talk-show case and $20 million to a woman who was sexually harassed at a Chrysler plant.” (Update Oct. 25-27, 2002: appeals court throws out Jenny Jones verdict. Further update Jul. 24, 2004: state high court throws out Chrysler verdict). Fieger, who was the unsuccessful Democratic challenger to Michigan Gov. John Engler at the last election, charges that the appeals courts are politically biased against him: “It’s a conspiracy to get me”. However, a reporter’s examination of Fieger cases that went up to appeals courts indicates that the partisan or philosophic background of the judges on the panels doesn’t seem to make a marked difference in his likelihood of success (Dawson Bell, “Fieger’s wins lose luster in appeals”, Detroit Free Press, May 29). “Colorful” barely begins to describe Fieger’s past run-ins with the law and with disciplinary authorities; see Dawson Bell, “Fieger’s skeletons won’t stay buried”, Detroit Free Press, August 13, 1998.

May 31 — “Dead teen’s family sues Take our Kids to Work”. Had to happen eventually dept.: in Welland, Ontario, “[t]he family of a teenage girl killed while driving a utility vehicle at a John Deere plant is suing the company, the school board and the organizers of Take Our Kids to Work day.” (Karena Walter, National Post, May 25).

May 31 — Pale Nanny with an ad budget. The Indoor Tanning Association, a salon trade group, is “worried about proposed legislation in Texas that would outlaw indoor tanning for anyone under age 18, require tanning salons to post pictures of different types of skin cancer, and allow dermatologists and anti-tanning activists to make contributions to the Texas Health Department to pay for an anti-tanning advertising campaign.” You didn’t think these sorts of campaigns were going to stop with tobacco, did you? (“Inside Washington — Presenting: This Season’s Latest Tan Lines”, April 14, National Journal, subscribers only).

May 30 — Supreme Court: sure, let judges redefine golf. By a 7-2 vote, the high court rules that the PGA can be forced to change its rules so as to let disabled golfer Casey Martin ride in a cart between holes while other contestants walk. (Yahoo Full Coverage; Christian Science Monitor; PGA Tour v. Martin decision in PDF format — Scalia dissent, which is as usual the good part, begins about two-thirds of the way down). For our take, see Reason, May 1998; disabled-rights sports cases).

May 30 — Microsoft v. Goliath. “The antitrust laws originally aimed to preserve competition as idealized by Adam Smith. Can they now preserve and promote Schumpeter’s [“creative destruction”] competition? The Microsoft case suggests that they cannot. ” (Robert Samuelson, “The Gates of Power”, The New Republic, Apr. 23).

May 30 — Evils of contingent-fee tax collection, cont’d. Another city, this time Meriden, Ct., has gotten in trouble for hiring a private firm to assist in its taxation process on a contingent-fee basis — in this case, the firm conducted property reassessments and got to keep a share of the new tax revenue hauled in by them. A Connecticut judge has now found that this system gave the firm a pointed incentive to inflate supposed property values unjustifiably, that it had done so in the case at hand, and that the incentive scheme, by destroying the impartiality that we expect of public servants, had deprived taxpayers of their rights to due process under both federal and state constitutions. He ordered the city to refund $15.6 million to two utility companies whose holdings had been overassessed in this manner. (Thomas Scheffey, “Connecticut Judge Blasts City’s $15.6 Million Mistake”, Connecticut Law Tribune, May 3). It’s yet another recognition (see Jan. 10, 2001; Dec. 3, 1999) that when governments hire contingent-fee professionals to advise them on whether private parties owe them money and if so how much, due process flies out the window — as has happened routinely in the new tobacco/gun/lead paint class of lawsuits, which operate on precisely this model.

May 29 — Claim: inappropriate object in toothpaste caused heart attack. A Shelton, Ct. man is suing Colgate-Palmolive, claiming he discovered an extremely indelicate object in a six-ounce standup tube of the company’s regular toothpaste and that the resulting stress caused his blood pressure to escalate over a matter of months, leading him to suffer a heart attack a year later. The company said it does not think its production processes would have allowed the offending object to have entered the tube. (“Man sues over condom in toothpaste”, AP/WTNH New Haven, May 25).

May 29 — States lag in curbing junk science. According to one estimate, only about half of state courts presently follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard for excluding unreliable scientific evidence from trials (Daubert v. Merrell Dow, 1993). Where states follow a laxer standard, they run the risk of approving verdicts based on strawberry-jam-causes-cancer “junk science”. A new group called the Daubert Council, headed by Charles D. Weller and David B. Graham of Cleveland’s Baker & Hostetler, aims to fix that situation by persuading the laggard states to step up to the federal standard. (Darryl Van Duch, “Group is Pushing ‘Daubert'”, National Law Journal, May 25).

May 29 — Brace for data-disaster suits. Companies with a substantial information technology presence are likely to become the targets of major liability lawsuits in areas such as hacker attacks, computer virus spread, confidentiality breach, and business losses to co-venturers and customers, according to various experts in the field. (Jaikumar Vijayan, “IT security destined for the courtroom”, ComputerWorld, May 21).

May 28 — Holiday special: dispatches from abroad. Today is Memorial Day in the U.S., which we will observe by skipping American news just for today in favor of the news reports that continue to pour in from elsewhere:

* Swan victim Mary Ryan, 71, has lost her $32,600 negligence claim against authorities over an incident in which one of the birds knocked her to the ground in Phoenix Park in central Dublin, Ireland. She testified that she had just fed the swan and was walking away when she heard a great flapping of wings and was knocked down, suffering a broken wrist. “Ryan said park commissioners should have put up signs warning the public about ‘the mischievous propensity and uncertain temperament'” of the birds, but Judge Kevin Haugh ruled that evidence had not established that the park’s swans were menacing in general, although the one in question had concededly been having “a very bad day.” (Reuters/Excite, May 25).

* In Canada, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal has ruled improper the disbarment of Fredericton attorney Michael A.A. Ryan, whom the Law Society had removed from practice after finding that he had lied to clients and falsified work, reports the National Post. To conceal his neglect of cases which had lapsed due to statutes of limitations, “Mr. Ryan gave his clients reports of hearings, motions and discoveries that never occurred, and when pressed for details of a supposedly favourable judgment, forged a decision from the Court of Appeal. The clients were eventually told they had won $20,000 each in damages,” but in the end Ryan had to confess that he had been making it all up. “The lawyer has admitted to a long-standing addiction to drugs and alcohol, and told the court he was depressed during the period of his misconduct because of the breakup of his marriage.” (Jonathon Gatehouse, “Court gives lawyer who lied to clients second chance,” National Post, May 18).

* Authorities in Northumbria, England, have agreed to pay thousands of pounds to Detective Inspector Brian Baker, who blames his nocturnal snoring on excessive inhalation of cannabis (marijuana) dust in the line of police duty. Baker says that his spending four days in a storeroom with the seized plants resulted in nasal congestion, sniffing, dry throat, and impaired sense of smell as well as a snore that led to “marital disharmony”. (Ian Burrell, “Payout for policeman who blamed his snoring on cannabis”, The Independent (U.K.), April 11; Joanna Hale, “Drugs inquiry made detective a snorer”, The Times (U.K.), April 11). And updating an earlier story (see May 22), a woman in Bolton, Lancashire has prevailed in her suit against a stage hypnotist whose presentation caused her to regress to a childlike state and recall memories of abuse; damages were $9,000 (AP/ABC News, May 25).

May 25-27 — “Judge buys shopaholic defense in embezzling”. “A Chicago woman who stole nearly $250,000 from her employer to finance a shopping addiction was spared from prison in a novel ruling Wednesday by a federal judge who found that she bought expensive clothing and jewelry to ‘self-medicate’ her depression.” Elizabeth Roach faced a possible 18-month prison term for the embezzlement under federal sentencing guidelines, but U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly reduced her sentence, sparing her the big house, in what was evidently “the first time in the country that a federal judge reduced a defendant’s sentence because of an addiction to shopping.” She had bought a $7,000 belt buckle and run credit-card bills up to $500,000. (Matt O’Connor, Chicago Tribune, May 24).

May 25-27 — Columnist-fest. More reasons to go on reading newspapers:

* A New York legislator has introduced a joint custody bill that he thinks would significantly reduce the state’s volume of child custody litigation, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Leaving aside debates about the other pros and cons of joint custody, one reason it languishes is that it “has been opposed by matrimonial lawyers in the state. ‘They make their living on these divorces,’ said [assemblyman David] Sidikman, a lawyer himself. “… The parents usually start off these cases promising to be adults, but that doesn’t last once the lawyers get involved.” “(John Tierney, “The Big City: A System for Lawyers, Not Children”, New York Times, May 15 (reg)). Bonus: Tierney on the NIMBY-ists who would sue to keep IKEA from building a store in a blighted Brooklyn neighborhood (“Stray Dogs As a Litigant’s Best Friend”, April 13).

* Steve Chapman points out that the recent release of an Oklahoma man long imprisoned for a rape he didn’t commit (see May 9) casts doubt not only on shoddy forensics but also on that convincing-seeming kind of evidence, eyewitness testimony (“Don’t believe what they say they see”, Chicago Tribune, May 13). Bonus: Chapman on the scandal of medical-pot prohibition (“Sickening policy on medical marijuana”, May 17).

* Reparations: “Germans may be paying for the sins of their fathers but asking Americans to stump up for what great-great-great-grandpappy did seems to be rather stretching a point. ” (Graham Stewart, “Why we simply can’t pay compensation for every stain on our history”, The Times (U.K.), March 22).

May 25-27 — “Gone with the Wind” parody case. The legal status of parody as a defense to copyright infringement is still uncertain in many ways, and contrary to a widespread impression there is no legal doctrine allowing extra latitude in copying material from works such as the Margaret Mitchell novel that have become “cultural icons” (Kim Campbell, “Who’s right?”, Christian Science Monitor, May 24; Ken Paulson, “What — me worry? Judge’s suppression of Gone With the Wind parody raises concerns”, Freedom Forum, May 20).

May 24 — “Family awarded $1 billion in lawsuit”. Another great day for trial lawyers under our remarkable system of unlimited punitive damages: a New Orleans jury has voted to make ExxonMobil pay $1 billion to former state district judge Joseph Grefer and his family because an Exxon contractor that leased land from the family for about thirty years left detectable amounts of radioactivity behind from its industrial activities. Exxon “said it offered to clean up the land but the Grefers declined its offers.” The company says the land could be cleaned up for $46,000 and also “claims that less than 1 percent of the land contains radiation levels above naturally occurring levels.” The jury designated $56 million of the fine for cleaning up the land; the total value of the parcel is somewhere between $500,000 (Exxon’s view) and $1.5 million (the owners). (Sandra Barbier, New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 23; Brett Martel, “Jury: ExxonMobil Should Pay $1.06B”, AP/Yahoo, May 22; “Exxon Mobil to Appeal $1 Billion Fine”, Reuters/New York Times, May 23).

May 24 — Humiliation by litigators as turning point in Clinton affair. “It strikes me as relevant that the turning point in the Lewinsky saga was the broadcasting of Clinton’s deposition, an image of an actual human being humiliated for hours on end. It was then that we realized we had gone too far — but look how far down the path we had already gone.” (Andrew Sullivan, TRB from Washington, “Himself”, The New Republic, May 7).

May 24 — Tobacco: angles on Engle. With three cigarette companies having agreed to pay $700 million just to guarantee their right to appeal a Miami jury’s confiscatory $145 billion verdict in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds, other lawyers are piling on, the latest being an alliance of hyperactive class action lawyers Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll with O.J. Simpson defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran (“Lawsuit says tobacco industry tried to hook kids”, CNN/AP, May 23; Jay Weaver, “Tobacco firms agree to historic smoker payment”, Miami Herald, May 8; “Tobacco Companies Vow to Fight $145 Billion Verdict”, American Lawyer Media, July 17, 2000; Rick Bragg with Sarah Kershaw, “”Juror Says a ‘Sense of Mission’ Led to Huge Tobacco Damages”, New York Times, July 16, 2000 (reg); “Borrowing power to be considered in tobacco suit”, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 1, 2000 (judge ruled that companies’ ability to borrow money could be used as a predicate for quantum of punitive damages)).

May 23 — “Insect lawyer ad creates buzz”. Torys, a large law firm based in Toronto, has caused a stir by running a recruitment ad aimed at student lawyers with pictures of weasels, rats, vultures, scorpions, cockroaches, snakes and piranhas, all under the headline “Lawyers we didn’t hire.” The ad, devised by Ogilvy and Mather, says the firm benefits from a “uniquely pleasant and collegial atmosphere” because it doesn’t hire “bullies, office politicians or toadies”, who presumably go to work for other law firms instead.

However, some defenders of invertebrates and other low-status fauna say it’s unfair to keep comparing them to members of the legal profession. Vultures, for example, “provide a really essential role in terms of removing dead animals and diseases,” says Ontario zoologist Rob Foster. “It’s slander, frankly,” he says, “adding that one exception might be the burbot, a bottom-feeding fish whose common names include ‘the lawyer.’ … ‘Whenever I see a dung beetle portrayed negatively in a commercial, I see red,’ he said yesterday, recalling that in The Far Side comic strip, cartoonist Gary Larson once drew two vermin hurling insults by calling each other ‘lawyer.'” (Tracey Tyler, Toronto Star, Apr. 19). (DURABLE LINK)

May 23 — “Working” for whom? An outfit called the Environmental Working Group has recently taken a much higher profile through its close association with “Trade Secrets”, a trial-lawyer-sourced (and, say its critics, egregiously one-sided) attack on the chemical industry that aired March 26 as a Bill Moyers special on PBS. Spotted around the same time was the following ad which ran on one of the FindLaw email services on behalf of EWG: “Thought the Cigarette Papers Were Big? 50 years of internal Chemical Industry documents including thousands of industry meeting minutes, memos, and letters. All searchable online. Everything you need to build a case at http://www.ewg.org“. Hmmm … isn’t PBS supposed to avoid letting itself be used to promote commercial endeavors, such as litigation? (more on trial lawyer sway among environmental groups)

MORE: Michael Fumento, “Bill Moyers’ Bad Chemistry”, Washington Times, April 13; PBS “TradeSecrets”; Steven Milloy, “Anti-chemical Activists And Their New Clothes”, FoxNews.com, March 30; www.AboutTradeSecrets.org (chemical industry response); ComeClean.org; Ronald Bailey, “Synthetic Chemicals and Bill Moyers”, Reason Online, March 28. The New York Times‘s Neil Genzlinger wrote a less than fully enthralled review of the Moyers special (“‘Trade Secrets’: Rendering a Guilty Verdict on Corporate America”, television review, March 26) for which indiscretion abuse was soon raining down on his head from various quarters, including the leftist Nation (“The Times v. Moyers” (editorial), April 16). (DURABLE LINK)

May 22 — From dinner party to court. “I’m never going to invite people around for dinner again,” says Annette Martin of Kingsdown, Wiltshire, England, after being served with a notice of claim for personal injury from dinner guest Margaret Stewart, who says she was hurt when she fell through a glass and steel dining chair in Miss Martin’s home. Martin says that “up to then we had been good friends,” and that Miss Stewart “looked perfectly fine when she walked out the door that evening. … I feel very strongly about the television adverts that encourage this sort of nonsense. I think the Government should intervene before we become like the Americans and sue over anything.” (Richard Savill, “Dinner party ends with a sting in the tail”, Daily Telegraph, May 19). In other U.K. news, a woman from Bolton, Lancashire, is suing stage hypnotist Philip Green, claiming that during one of his performances “she was induced to chase what she believed were fairies around the hall, drink a glass of cider believing it was water and believe she was in love with Mr. Green,” all of which left her depressed and even for a time suicidal, calling up memories of childhood abuse. (“Woman sues stage hypnotist over ‘abuse memories'”, Ananova.com, May 21) (more on hypnotist liability: March 13). UpdateMay 28: she wins case and $9,000 damages.

May 22 — Razorfish, Cisco, IPO suits. In a decision scathingly critical of the “lawyer-driven” nature of securities class action suits, New York federal judge Jed Rakoff rejected a motion by five law firms to install a group of investors as the lead plaintiff in shareholder lawsuits against Razorfish Inc., a Web design and consulting company. The investor group had been “cobbled together” for purposes of getting their lawyers into the driver’s seat, he suggested. “Here, as in many other such cases, most of the counsel who filed the original complaints attempted before filing the instant motions to reach a private agreement as to who would be put forth as lead plaintiff and lead counsel and how fees would be divided among all such counsel.” Rakoff instead installed as lead counsel Milberg Weiss and another firm, which jointly represented the largest investor claiming losses in the action. “Judge Rakoff noted drily in a footnote that numerous complaints were filed within days that essentially copied the original Milberg Weiss complaint verbatim,” and wondered whether the lawyers filing those copycat suits had taken into account the requirements of federal Rule 11. (Bruce Balestier, “Judge Rejects Lawyers’ Choice of Lead Plaintiff in Razorfish Class Actions”, New York Law Journal, May 8).

Observers are closely watching the onslaught of class action suits filed against Cisco Systems since its stock price declined. Stanford securities-law professor Joseph Grundfest, who “helped craft the 1995 reform act and has worked on both plaintiffs-side and defense cases … said he sees the Cisco case as part of a buckshot strategy by plaintiffs’ lawyers. They are suing multiple technology companies with hopes of extracting a large settlement from at least one. ‘They only need a small probability to make it worth their while,’ Grundfest said. ‘How much does it cost to write a complaint?'”. (Renee Deger, “Cisco Inferno”, The Recorder, April 27). Shareholder suits in federal court are headed toward record numbers this year in the wake of the dotcom meltdown (Daniel F. DeLong, “Lawyers Find Profit in Dot-Com Disasters”, Yahoo/ NewsFactor.com, May 14; see also Richard Williamson, “Shareholder Suits Slam High-Tech”, Interactive Week/ZDNet, Dec. 19, 2000).

May 22 — Welcome SmarterTimes readers. Ira Stoll’s daily commentary on the New York Times mentioned us on Sunday (May 20 — scroll to first “Late Again”). And Brill’s Content has now put online its “Best of the Web” roundtable in which we were recommended by federal appeals judge Alex Kozinski (May — scroll about halfway down righthand column).

May 21– Six-hour police standoff no grounds for loss of job, says employee. “A formerly suicidal insurance executive who lost his job after a six-hour standoff with police at Park Meadows mall [in Denver] is suing his former employer for discrimination under federal and state laws protecting the mentally disabled. The 43-year-old plaintiff, Richard M. Young, alleges he was wrongfully terminated from Ohio Casualty Insurance Co. after the company interpreted a suicide note he wrote to be his letter of resignation. … The civil complaint says Young was on emergency medical leave for an emotional breakdown May 29, 2000, when he drove to the shopping center’s parking garage and was spotted on mall security cameras with a revolver. … Douglas County sheriff’s deputies finally coaxed him into surrendering”. His suit seeks back pay, front pay and punitive damages. (John Accola, “Man who was suicidal sues ex-employer for discrimination”, Rocky Mountain News, May 18). (DURABLE LINK)

May 21 — “Anonymity takes a D.C. hit”. If Rep. Felix Grucci has his way, you won’t be able to duck into a library while on the road to check your Hotmail; the New York Republican has “introduced legislation requiring schools and libraries receiving federal funds to block access from their computers to anonymous Web browsing or e-mail services. … Grucci says it’s necessary to thwart the usual suspects, terrorists and child molesters.” (Declan McCullagh, Wired News, May 19). And did you know that it would be unlawful to put out this website in Italy without registering with the government and paying a fee? New regulations in that country are extending to web publishers an appalling-enough-already set of rules that require print journalists to register with the government. Says the head of the Italian journalists’ union approvingly: “Thus ends, at least in Italy, the absurd anarchy that permits anyone to publish online without standards and without restrictions, and guarantees to the consumer minimum standards of quality in all information content, for the first time including electronic media.” (Declan McCullagh’s politechbot, “Italy reportedly requires news sites to register, pay fees”, April 11; “More on Italy requiring news sites to register, pay fees”, April 12) (via Virginia Postrel’s “The Scene”, posted there May 6). (DURABLE LINK)

May 21 — “Patients’ rights” roundup. Well, duh: “Doctors supporting patients’ rights bills have suddenly become alarmed that some of the proposals could boomerang and expose them to new lawsuits.” (Robert Pear, “Doctors Fear Consequences of Proposals on Liability”, New York Times, May 6 (reg)). “Consumers do not consider the right to sue health insurers over coverage issues a top healthcare priority, according to new survey data released by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA),” which is of course an interested party in the matter; a right to sue “finished last among 21 major health issues that consumers were asked to rank.” (Karen Pallarito, “Poll: Right to sue HMOs low priority for consumers,” Reuters Health, April 26 (text) (survey data — PDF)). And if liability is to be expanded at all, Congress should consider incorporating into the scheme the “early offers” idea developed by University of Virginia law professor Jeffrey O’Connell, which is aimed at providing incentives for insurers to make, and claimants to accept, reasonable settlements at an early stage in the dispute (John Hoff, “A Better Patients’ Bill of Rights,” National Center for Policy Analysis Brief Analysis No. 355, April 19). (DURABLE LINK)

MORE: Greg Scandlen, “Legislative Malpractice: Misdiagnosing Patients’ Rights”, Cato Briefing Papers, April 7, 2000 (executive summary) (full paper — PDF); Gregg Easterbrook, “Managing Fine”, The New Republic, March 20, 2000.

August 2000 archives, part 3


August 31 — Update: Alabama campaign-tactics case. A judge has sentenced prominent Alabama trial lawyer Garve Ivey to 30 days in jail after a jury convicted him on misdemeanor charges arising out of a smear campaign against the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Steve Windom (see Sept. 1 and Aug. 26, 1999). Shortly before the 1998 election, with Windom running a hard-fought race against a trial lawyer-backed opponent, a former prostitute and heroin addict named Melissa Myers Bush stepped forward with a lawsuit dramatically charging that Windom had raped and beat her seven years earlier when she worked for an escort service. Ivey, who was serving at the time as an official of the state trial lawyers association, paid to have 300 copies made of a videotape of Bush describing her charges, “which were distributed to news outlets across the state”. But as questions arose, Bush soon recanted and said she’d been paid to tell her story and that it was false. According to later testimony at trial, Bush accepted $2,700 from Birmingham businessman Scott Nordness, money that was later reimbursed by Ivey. Nordness was granted immunity by prosecutors seeking his testimony and charges were filed against Ivey and a private investigator who’d worked with him, Wes Chappell.

On June 22 a Mobile County jury acquitted Chappell of the charges and rendered a split decision in Ivey’s case, acquitting him on the felony count of bribing Bush to give false testimony while convicting him on two misdemeanor counts of witness tampering and criminal defamation. According to AP, the witness tampering charge arose from Ivey’s having gotten Nordness to sign a sworn statement after Bush’s lawsuit which, in prosecutors’ view, seemed to suggest that no money had changed hands in the case. Windom says he feels vindicated after two years and expects an apology from the state trial lawyers’ group, which he says tried to dodge the appearance of involvement in the smear efforts when trial testimony indicated the contrary. “The evidence clearly showed that there was a great deal of involvement at every stage. They need to come clean with the public and with their own members,” he said. (The AP coverage does not include a response from the trial lawyers’ group.) Ivey’s lawyers plan an appeal; still pending as well are civil suits that Ivey and Windom have filed against each other over the affair. Update: in July 2001 the Alabama Supreme Court reversed these convictions and ordered Ivey acquitted of the charges (see July 7, 2001).

SOURCES: “Ivey sentenced to 30 days in jail on witness tampering”, AP, August 9, not online, available on NEXIS; Garry Mitchell, “Chappell cleared, Ivey found guilty in Windom trial”, AP/Decatur Daily, June 23; Garry Mitchell, “Windom wants apology from trial lawyers”, AP state and regional wire, June 23, not online, available on NEXIS; Gary McElroy, “Former call girl testifies”, Mobile Register, June 16; “Chuck’s Page” (page by Chuck Harrison, a witness called in the case; scroll down halfway to “Just Desserts”).

August 31 — “Diva awarded $11M for broken dream”. Last week a Little Rock, Ark. jury awarded aspiring opera singer Kristin Maddox, now 23, $11 million “for injuries she suffered when an American Airlines jet went off a runway last year while landing in a thunderstorm”. Maddox was studying opera in hopes of becoming a star but says damage to her voice box and hands in the crash ruined her professional chances. Her lawyer, “Bob Bodoin, told jurors that no amount of money would make up for her pain and the loss of a career that could have rivaled opera stars Beverly Sills or Luciano Pavarotti’s”. However, a university voice teacher who evaluated one of Maddox’s pre-crash performances on video said she had a voice that, while “lovely”, was also too light to fill an auditorium in the Sills or Pavarotti manner. (AP/Philadelphia Daily News, Aug. 25; discussion on Professional Pilots Rumour Network boards).

August 31 — “Breaking the Litigation Habit”. The business-oriented Committee for Economic Development released a report in April which “calls our litigation system ‘too intrusive, too slow, and too expensive.’ The current system does not adequately or fairly compensate people for injuries; it imposes costs that threaten to impair economic innovation; and it undermines the trust and civility among our citizens that are essential to a well-functioning, democratic society.” The report goes on to endorse “Early Offers” and “Auto Choice” reforms, both aimed at providing rapid compensation for injuries without litigation (introductory page links to executive summary and full report in PDF format).

August 29-30 — Back-to-school roundup: granola bars out, Ritalin in. The Fallingbrook Community Elementary School, in an Ottawa suburb, has “banned all snacks except fruits and vegetables in an attempt to protect children with allergies”. Children in K-4 “have been asked not to bring cheese and crackers, dips, yogurt, candy bars or homemade muffins for snacks” for fear of triggering reactions in other kids with peanut, dairy, egg or other allergies. Fallingbrook parent Theresa Holowach would like to send cereal bars or homemade muffins with her eight-year-old son and kindergartner-to-be daughter but was willing to settle for rice cakes, cheese and crackers; her requests, however, “were refused on the grounds that the school would be legally liable if actions were not taken to limit the risks for children with serious allergies. ‘To me the school is going to have serious liabilities if my child chokes on a carrot because you’ve forced me to give her raw fruit and vegetables,’ said Ms. Holowach”. (Gina Gillespie, “School bans all snacks except fruit, vegetables”, Ottawa Citizen/National Post, Aug. 26).

Meanwhile, both the New York Law Journal and USA Today say there are other cases, besides the recently reported one near Albany, N.Y. (see July 26), in which schools are resorting to legal action to compel unwilling parents to dose their children with Ritalin, the controversial psychiatric drug. (John Caher, “New York Ritalin Case Puts Parents, Courts on Collision Course”,New York Law Journal, Aug. 18; Karen Thomas, “Parents pressured to put kids on Ritalin”, USA Today, Aug. 8). The Christian Science Monitor also reports on a different kind of legal pitfall that may await the non-medicating parent: in 1995 the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a $170,000 jury verdict against parents whose fourth-grade special-ed student attacked his teacher after they took him off medication that had reduced his aggressive behavior. (Katherine Biele, “When students get hostile, teachers go to court”, Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 22). However, the Wisconsin court stressed in that case that it was not imposing on parents a duty to keep the child on medication, but rather a lesser duty to warn the school if they decided to discontinue the drug (summary on Spedlaw.com website of Nieuwendorp v American Family Ins Co., 22 IDELR 551 (1995)).

The Monitor reports that educators are taking kids themselves to court over an ever-wider range of misconduct, especially defamation (see Sept. 28, Nov. 15). Most students are deemed “judgment-proof” but state laws specify a limited measure of parental financial responsibility for kids’ misbehavior, usually limited to such sums as $1,000 or $2,500, which can however escalate to unlimited amounts if the parents are deemed negligent, as in the Wisconsin case. And in Rhode Island, to update an earlier story (see April 19), two years of wrangling over whether Westerly High School sophomore Robert Parker was out of line to wear a rock band T-shirt displaying the numerals 666 have ended, with the school facing a cumulative bill for the dispute of $60,000. (American Civil Liberties Union/AP, July 6).

August 29-30 — Denny’s bias charges: let’s go to the videotape. Another day, another discrimination suit demanding money from the Denny’s restaurant chain on charges of racially based denial of service. But it so happened that a security video camera was running during the alleged Cutler Ridge, Fla. incident, and the story told by its tape was so at odds with the story the complainants were telling that their lawyer, Ellis Rubin of Miami, felt obliged to withdrew from the case for fear of facing sanctions if he continued. “In 1994, Denny’s settled a $46 million class action with hundreds of black customers who had alleged that they were refused service at the chain’s restaurants”; despite the diversity training it’s instituted since then it still faces many new public-accommodations suits, but its management vows to fight those that it considers opportunistic. (David E. Rovella, “Denny’s Serves Up a Winning Video”, National Law Journal, Aug. 24) (see also Sept. 29).

August 29-30 — Welcome Yahoo Internet Life readers. Last Friday’s installment of “Ask the Surf Guru” carried this nice accolade: “*** Special to Gwendolyn: Like Cassandra said in Mighty Aphrodite, “I see disaster. I see catastrophe. Worse, I see lawyers.” But better is seeing Walter Olson’s daily odes to odious lawyering at Overlawyered.com, where he chronicles how attorneys clog the drain of American life with lawsuits that redefine the word ‘frivolous.'” Thanks! (ZDNet/Yahoo Internet Life, Aug. 24 — final item).

August 29-30 — “Lawyers want millions as cut of Holocaust settlement”. “On April 12, 1997, Arthur Bailey, one of the dozens of lawyers who helped negotiate a $1.25 billion settlement finalized last month between Swiss banks and Holocaust survivors, bought a copy of the book ‘Nazi Gold’ by Tom Bower and spent 8.6 hours reviewing it. Cost to plaintiffs: $2,365, or $275 an hour.” Lengthy telephone conversations between lawyers and a half-hour interview granted by a lawyer to the Washington Post are among other outlays of lawyers’ time for which reimbursement is being sought in the $13.5 million fee request, which Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, described as “outrageous”: “We said from the beginning that the lawyers should be acting pro bono,” i.e., without compensation. (Steve Chambers, Newhouse News Service/Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug. 15).

August 29-30 — Imagine if she’d had a photo of a gun too. Police in Davidson, North Carolina “are defending an officer’s decision to search a woman’s car for drugs after spotting a photo of a marijuana plant on the cover of a newspaper in her car.” The driver, when stopped at 1 a.m., had a copy of an alternative weekly in her car with a cover story on police use of helicopters against marijuana growers, and consented to the search request, police said. A journalism professor says carrying such material could not possibly be probable cause for a car search. Nothing unlawful was found in the vehicle. (“Police say photo of marijuana plant sufficient cause for drug search”, AP/Raleigh News & Observer, Aug. 25) (via Progressive Review).

August 28 — “Man killed in gas explosion told to clean up rubble”. “One day after a Brooklyn couple died in a gas explosion at their home, city officials fired off a letter to the dead husband insisting that he was responsible for immediately cleaning up the rubble.” On July 11 a massive blast leveled the home of Leonard Walit, 72, and his 66-year-old wife Harriet, who were buried under the rubble of the four-story brownstone with a third victim. “The responsibility to [repair or demolish the premises] is yours, and because of the severity of the condition, the work must begin immediately,” declared the form letter from building commissioner Tarek Zeid, which warned the deceased couple that if they delayed the city would perform the necessary work and bill them for the expenses. Critics say the city should have known better given that the blast made big headlines, and a spokesman for the Buildings Department has apologized. (AP/Yahoo, Aug. 26).

August 28 — Campaign consultants for judges. At $15,000 a pop it gets expensive fast to hire professional campaign help, but elected Florida judges increasingly feel they have to shell out for two, three or four of the hotshot local consultants — especially since if they don’t put them on retainer, they might just find themselves facing a challenger who has. It’s another reason reformers are hoping to move to an appointive system. (Tony Doris, “Full-Court Press”, Miami Daily Business Review, Aug. 23).

August 28 — “Relatives find ‘proof’ they own New York”. “Descendants of an 18th-century privateer are hoping that a copy of an ancient lease discovered in an attic in South Wales may finally prove that they are the rightful owners of the world’s most valuable piece of real estate,” reports London’s Sunday Times. “For 120 years the descendants of Robert Edwards have been trying to establish their rights to 77 acres of Manhattan on which now stand Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, [lower] Broadway and the World Trade Center.” And who’s to say they won’t succeed, given the enthusiasm shown by American courts for hearing Indian land suits (see Feb. 1), liability claims arising from the sale of products in the first years of the Twentieth Century, and perhaps, before long, slavery reparation cases as well? (Simon de Bruxelles, Sunday Times (London), Aug. 22).

August 25-27 — Mich. high court: tough on working (arsonist) families. As the nasty race for the Michigan Supreme Court heats up (see May 15, May 9, Jan. 31), opponents have rolled out television ads assailing three Republican justices as “antifamily” and biased toward business, on the strength of 43 decisions they’ve rendered that supposedly fit that pattern. However, when the Detroit Free Press‘s Dawson Bell looked into the details, he discovered that among the rulings being flayed as “antifamily” is one from last year denying insurance coverage to “a pair of convicted arsonists who burned down a row of buildings”. A look at the rest of the cited court decisions likewise “indicates that the content provided in the ads borders on the bogus.” For example, in six cases the ad-makers counted government defendants in lawsuits — that is to say, the taxpayers — as “corporations”; they omitted a half dozen cases that obviously didn’t fit their pattern, while including “at least seven cases in which an individual won, or a corporation wasn’t a party;” and they included fourteen cases in which the court’s Democrats agreed with the outcome. Where’s the state Democratic Party getting the money for its big ad buy trashing the GOP judges? It’s hard to know for sure, but trial lawyers are said to have privately pledged millions to defeat the trio at the polls (see May 9). (Dawson Bell, “Party politics enters high court race”, Detroit Free Press, Aug. 3; Kathy Barks Hoffman, “Chamber runs ads to counter Democrats’ attacks on justices”, AP/Detroit News, Aug. 17; Charlie Cain, “High court race will be nasty, pricey”, Detroit News, June 23). Opponents of the three justices have mounted not one but two websites: AgainstMichiganFamilies.com and The Justice Caucus. But in fact “Michigan’s Supreme Court may be the nation’s best example of a court committed to interpreting the law — not manufacturing it,” contends National Review Online contributor Peter Leeson (“Michigan’s Supreme Court Is Supreme”, Aug. 22). That makes it a notable contrast with the high court in neighboring Ohio, where a narrow majority of justices last year (see Aug. 18, 1999) used activist reasoning to strike down legislated liability limits, and are now being heavily backed by trial lawyers in their re-election bids (Thomas Bray, “A Nation of Laws, or of Judges?”, Opinion Journal, Aug. 17).

August 25-27 — “Albuquerque can seize homes hosting teen drinking”. Under a bill approved by the city council of New Mexico’s largest city, you can now look forward to losing your house if the neighbors complain about repeated gatherings of tippling teens while you’re away. (Kate Nash, Albuquerque Tribune/Nando Times, Aug. 23).

August 25-27 — “How do you fit 12 people in a 1983 Honda?” Brazen, well-organized car-crash fraud rings thrive in the Big Apple, according to a series of New York Post exposés this summer. Other states are well ahead of New York in enacting legislation aimed at curbing fraud; meanwhile, the “Pataki administration is in court trying to overturn a decision in which the trial lawyers and medical profession successfully sued to have the state’s existing no-fault regulations thrown out.” June 25 (related story); June 26; June 27; July 16 (related story); August 6). Last year New York City recouped $1 million following the racketeering and fraud convictions of attorney Morris Eisen, a one-time major filer of injury claims who prosecutors say introduced fraudulent evidence in at least 18 cases, including three against the city (press release from office of Comptroller Alan Hevesi, May 18, 1999).

August 25-27 — Retroactive crash liability. Following years of lobbying by trial lawyers, Congress passed and President Clinton signed in April a new law retroactively raising the amounts payable in lawsuits to relatives of those killed in three air crashes over international waters, including the loss of TWA Flight 800. The little-publicized passage, “nestled on page 71 of a 137-page budget bill … carries an effective date of July 16, 1996” — almost four years before its signing. It abolishes old limitations on lawsuits set by the historic Death on the High Seas Act so as to expand the sums recoverable for “non-pecuniary” losses, such as the “care, comfort and companionship” of the deceased. The result is to ensure substantially higher payouts in litigation over the TWA crash, for which that airline and Boeing are being sued, as well as the Atlantic downings of Swissair Flight 111 and EgyptAir Flight 990. Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), who represents Boeing’s home state, had argued to no avail that it was unfair to expand the companies’ obligation retroactively. (Frank J. Murray, “Retroactive move allows big awards in TWA crash”, Washington Times, Aug. 24).

August 23-24 — Class actions: are we all litigants yet? If you’re a member of American Airlines’ frequent-flier plan, you may have received by now a class action settlement notice in which the airline agrees to make legal amends for the atrocity of having raised from 20,000 to 25,000 miles the point level needed to claim a free coach round-trip. After slogging through the legal jargon, St. Petersburg Times columnist Susan Taylor Martin finds that the “most that ‘class members’ in my category can expect is this: a 5,000-mile discount on a frequent-flier award or a certificate for $75 off on a ticket costing at least $220. Wow. But let’s read on. In return for negotiating this settlement, the lawyers representing me and other plaintiffs will apply for fees ‘not to exceed $25 million.’ No wonder we’re such a lawsuit-happy nation.”. She asks her newsroom colleagues if they’ve been represented in class actions, and they inundate her with responses. Then she goes on to cite this website, quote a number of comments from our editor, discuss proposed reforms that would redirect nationwide class suits to federal courts, and finally take up the much-recurring question: what’s the best way to discourage further legal excesses of this sort, to fill out and return the claims form, or toss it in the waste basket? (Susan Taylor Martin, “Is anyone not involved in a class-action lawsuit?”, St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 20). Also see Sarah Haertl, “Bill Limits Class-Action Fees for Attorneys”, Office.com, June 19.

August 23-24 — Funds that don’t protect. “Client protection funds” are supposed to reimburse persons who fall victim to thievery by their lawyers, but a National Law Journal investigation finds the funds “poorly endowed, stingy about payouts and virtually a secret, even to many lawyers, whose bar dues help finance them”. Many victims get just pennies on the dollar, or nothing at all: “cheated clients are getting twice betrayed by the legal professionals who should be protecting them”. (“Wronged Clients Face an Empty Promise in Some States”, Aug. 21).

August 23-24 — Fateful carpool. The consent of one’s spouse is no excuse for violating a restraining order obtained by her earlier, as Blaine Jeschonek has learned to his sorrow in Bedford, Pennsylvania. When Jeschonek, 44, arrived in court accompanied by his estranged wife Beth, Judge Thomas Ling promptly ordered him arrested and charged with criminal contempt for violating a court order forbidding him to have contact with her. “The Jeschoneks had traveled together to court to ask Ling to dismiss the restraining order. ‘I will not tolerate these orders being violated in my presence, under my nose, in my own courtroom,’ Ling said.” (“Pennsylvania man carpools to court and faces contempt”, AP/CNN, Aug. 14).

August 23-24 — Bankrupting Canadian churches? A remarkable legal story is unfolding in Canada, where down through the 1960s the country’s major churches, under an arrangement with the national government, administered residential schools for youths from Indian tribes. A significant share (perhaps 20 percent) of all school-age Indians attended these schools, thus being separated from native communities for much of their childhood. As ideas of multiculturalism made headway, the schools with their premise of assimilation to English culture came to be regarded as an embarrassing legacy, though at the time they had enjoyed the support of most Indian bands. In recent years adults who attended the schools in their youth have filed legal actions against the school proprietors, originally in small numbers over claims of past physical and sexual abuse, but more recently in much larger numbers, more than 7,000, with the predominant alleged injury among new cases being “cultural deprivation” years or decades earlier. Claimant recruitment by attorneys has played a major role in the expansion of the dispute; one lawyer alone, Tony Merchant of Regina, Saskatchewan, has assembled no fewer than 4,300 former school residents from across Western Canada to press claims. Although very few cases have yet reached court, early rulings suggest that the litigation may inflict money transfers and legal costs so large as to bankrupt or financially cripple some or all of the church defendants: the Anglican Church of Canada, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church of Canada and Roman Catholic Church of Canada (David Frum, “The dissolution of Canadian churches”, National Post, Aug. 19; “Tending the flock”, editorial, Aug. 16; Richard Foot, “Deputy PM to meet Church leader over bankruptcy crisis”, Aug. 16; Ian Hunter, “Paying for past injustice is unjust”, July 20; “Sins of the fathers”, editorial, July 17; Ferdy Baglo, “Canada’s Anglican Church Considers Possibility of Financial Ruin“, Christianity Today). (DURABLE LINK)

MORE RESOURCES: Law Commission of Canada; Anglican Church of Canada (main page; apology; in Oji-Cree syllabics (pdf)); United Church of Canada (FAQ, news); Turtle Island Native Network (resources, news); Diane Rowe for White Oppenheimer & Baker (plaintiff’s law firm); Jane O’Hara and Patricia Treble, “Abuse of Trust”, Maclean’s, June 26; “Residential Schools: An Essential Component of Genocide” (University of Victoria); Jay Charland, “St. Paul diocese part of $195M suit”, Western Catholic Reporter; Patrick Donnelly, “Scapegoating the Indian Residential Schools”, Alberta Report, Jan. 26, 1998, reprinted at Catholic Educator Resource Center.

August 23-24 — Welcome screenwriters. It’s hard to beat what goes on in courtrooms for sheer drama, which may be one reason at least two sites catering to professional screenwriters link to Overlawyered.com. CreateYourScreenplay.com gives us a nice encomium on its “Research” page (scroll down to “O”) and we also figure on the “Miscellaneous” links page of DailyScript.com.

August 21-22 — Tobacco- and gun-suit reading. National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor, Jr. pens a powerful critique of the tobacco litigation (“Tobacco Lawsuits: Taxing The Victims To Enrich Their Lawyers”, Aug. 1; quotes our editor). The American Tort Reform Foundation has published a review of the state tobacco suits, with particular attention to the questionable interrelationships between private for-profit lawyers and state attorneys general; the authors are well-known Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund and Martin Morse Wooster (“The Dangers of Regulation Through Litigation: The Alliance of Plaintiffs’ Lawyers and State Governments,” March 30, available through ATRF). Prof. Michael Krauss, of George Mason University School of Law, has written an analysis for the Independent Institute exploring the manifold legal weaknesses of the recoupment actions filed by states and cities against both firearms and tobacco makers (“Fire and Smoke”, orderable through II). And we’ve now posted online our editor’s op-ed from last month on the Florida jury’s $145 billion punitive damage award in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds (Walter Olson, “‘The Runaway Jury’ is No Myth”, Wall Street Journal, July 18).

August 21-22 — A thin-wall problem. A suburban Chicago attorney with Tourette’s Syndrome, the neurological condition that causes its sufferers to experience tics often in the form of uncontrollable utterances or gestures, is going to collect upwards of $300,000 in settlement of a lawsuit against the condominium association of which he and his wife were members. Jeffrey Marthon, 54, agreed in exchange to move out and to drop his suit contending that the association had violated fair-housing laws by attempting to evict him; the association had filed a legal action complaining of the noise from his involuntary hooting and foot-stomping. “Several neighbors said in affidavits that they were losing sleep because of noises coming from Marthon’s third-floor condo,” and engineers said it was impossible to install soundproofing to mitigate the problem. (Dan Rozek, “Man with Tourette’s cuts deal vs. condo”, Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 18).

August 21-22 — Fit to practice? The California Supreme Court, reversing a lower panel, has unanimously ruled against granting a law license to convicted felon Eben Gossage, a scion of an affluent San Francisco family who says he’s turned his life around and is fit to become an attorney notwithstanding an extensive record of past trouble with the law, most notably a manslaughter conviction for having brutally killed his own sister (Kevin Livingston, “Convicted Killer Denied California Bar Card”, The Recorder/CalLaw, August 16). At a June hearing, Justice Joyce Kennard “made it clear she was bothered by Gossage omitting 13 of his convictions on his Bar application.” (“How Long Is Long Enough?”, June 7). Several prominent Bay Area politicians had appeared as witnesses for Gossage, among them state senate president John Burton; after the one nonlawyer member of the lower disciplinary panel dissented from the panel’s decision that Gossage should be allowed to practice law, Burton introduced and helped secure passage of a bill which abolished that nonlawyer’s seat on the panel, sending, in the view of commentator George Kraw, an unsubtle message — “Don’t antagonize important legislators” (“Friends in High Places”, July 31; Mike McKee, “Court Sounds Leery of Bar Court Shuffle”, May 4; Mike McKee, “State Bar Court Braces for Upheaval”, June 29, reprinted at Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP site). Meanwhile, at least two lawyers implicated in California’s famous “Alliance” scandal are trying to regain their licenses to practice; the “Alliance”, a covert joint venture between plaintiffs’ and defense lawyers to manufacture and prolong legal claims for which the insurers would be obliged to employ legal counsel, bilked large insurance companies out of hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1980s (Mike McKee, “Scoundrel — or Scapegoat?”, The Recorder/CalLaw, June 13; more about Alliance (Kardos CPA site)).

August 21-22 — Watch those fwds. Last month “Dow Chemical, the No. 2 U.S. chemical company, fired about 50 workers and suspended another 200 for up to four weeks without pay, for sending or storing pornographic or violent e-mail messages. ” The “range of material” involved includes “stuff that would be in a swimsuit edition” as well as more offensive material, the company says; in a fit of mercy, it did not discipline workers who merely received such material as email and did not forward it to others. Under widely accepted interpretations of harassment law, companies that fail to take action against circulation of ribaldry in the workplace face possible liability for allowing a “hostile working environment”. (“Dow Scrubs 50 for Eyeing Porn”, Reuters/Wired News, Jul. 28). Workers who imagine that their email is private, readily deleted, and secure don’t seem to realize the current state of the law and the technology, says a risk-consulting division of law firm Littler Mendelson (Chris Oakes, “Seven Deadly Email Thoughts”, Wired News, Aug. 8). Nor are “anonymous” postings to bulletin boards really anonymous once the legal actors — including private lawyers — launch their subpoenas (Carl S. Kaplan, “In Fight Over Anonymity, John Doe Starts Slugging”, New York Times, June 2; Michael J. McCarthy, “Can Your PC Be Subpoenaed?”, ZDNet, May 24; Lauren Gard, “Yahoo Hit With Novel Privacy Suit”, The Recorder/CalLaw, May 15).

August 2000 archives


August 10 — Coffee-spill suits meet ADA. In Vallejo, California, a woman is suing McDonald’s, “saying she suffered second-degree burns when a handicapped employee at a drive-thru window dropped a large cup of hot coffee in her lap. …The suit said that the handicapped employee couldn’t grip the cardboard tray and was instead trying to balance it on top of her hands and forearms when she dumped the coffee on Aug. 25, 1999,” scalding Karen Muth, whose lawyer, Dan Ryan, told a local newspaper that she’s entitled to between $400,000 and $500,000. “We recognize that there’s an Americans with Disabilities Act, but that doesn’t give them the right to sacrifice the safety of their customers,” he said. (“Woman sues McDonald’s over spilled coffee”, AP/SFGate, Aug. 7). And British solicitors have organized 26 spill complainants into a group suit against the same chain over the overly piping nature of its beverages: “Hot coffee, hot tea and hot water are at the centre of this case. We are alleging that they are too hot,” said Malcolm Johnson of Steel and Shamash, a London law firm. (“McDonald’s faces British hot drink lawsuit”, Reuters/FindLaw, Aug. 2) (more on hot beverage suits: July 18; “Firing Squad”, Reason, May 1999 (scroll halfway down in piece); and resulting letters exchange, Aug./Sept. 1999 (scroll to last items), April 4).

August 10 — “Imperfect laws add to danger of perfect storms”. “In an ill-advised attempt to prevent overfishing in the [Gulf of Mexico], the government reduced the red snapper season to a very short nine-day opening” — a “snapper derby”. Unfortunately, menacing weather came up during that brief nine-day window, and snappermen were left with a choice of which risk to run, physical or economic. Most went to sea, “and at least two boats encountered life-threatening conditions. One boat was lost in raging seas off Louisiana.” Alaska suffered a series of avoidable accidents and fatalities under a similar “halibut derby” until it switched to a better system: the sort of individual transferable quotas often recommended by economists (Peter Emerson and Felix Cox, Dallas Morning News, July 25).

August 10 — “Justice, not plunder”. We thought we were hard-liners on the topic of excessive lawyers’ fees, but Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson goes us one better by proposing a maximum limit of $1 million or $2 million a year as the most anyone could earn from lawyering in a year. It might sound less outlandish if we went back to the old idea of lawyers as “officers of the court” — i.e., a species of civil servants, even if more fancily dressed. (July 27).

August 10 — Welcome readers (especially Daves). Among the diverse sites we’ve noticed linking to us are: Dave Dufour’s site, from Elkhart, Indiana; gasdetection.com, website of “Interscan Corporation, manufacturer of toxic gas detection systems”, which names us “Mike’s Cool Site of the Week”; Bonehead of the Day Award (citing us for material, not naming us as the awardee!); Miss Liberty Film & TV World, Jon Osborne’s newsletter reporting on film and television events of libertarian interest; Dave’s Corner, published by a different Dave from the one above; Peter Brimelow’s vdare.org, with a line-up of authors critical of immigration and multiculturalism; Big Eye — Alternate News Center, assembling many anti-establishment links; Hittman Chronicle, by yet a third Dave, Dave Hitt, whose July number takes a caustic view of the recent Florida tobacco verdict; Adirondacks2000.com (we’re their current “Featured Internet Site”); and Wrisley.com, “An Electronic Magazine for Thinkers” out of South Carolina.

August 8-9 — Senator Lieberman: a sampler. “Miracles happen,” said the Senator on learning that he was going to be the Democratic pick for VP. (Ron Fournier, “Gore Picks Sen. Lieberman for VP”, Washington Post, Aug. 7). As far as legal reform goes, we’d have to agree — for him to be on the same ticket with Al Gore counts as nothing short of a miracle:

“In vetoing this bipartisan product liability reform, the President went against his own White House Conference on Small Business and members of his own party. … Connecticut Democrat Sen. Joseph Lieberman said, ‘the President is dead wrong about this bill.’ And no less a journalistic authority than the Washington Post called the President’s decision to veto the bill, ‘a terrible one.'” (Rep. Dave Hobson (R-Ohio) newsletter, May 3, 1996)

“In complaining about trial lawyers’ influence on the liability bill, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., told the Wall Street Journal: ‘This is a remarkable story of a small group of people who are deeply invested in the status quo who have worked the system very effectively and have had a disproportionate effect.'” (Dallas Morning News, March 28, 1996, available on Nexis, but not online)

“Mr. President, in my view, you can add the civil justice system to the list of fundamental institutions in our country that are broken and in need of repair. … Ultimately it is the consumers who suffer most from the status quo. …

“I did not always support a national or Federal approach to product liability reform or tort reform generally … What changed my mind was listening to people in Connecticut. …

“I would say that our current medical malpractice system is a stealth contributor to the high cost of health care. … There is a well regarded consulting firm called Lewin-VHI. They have stated that hospital charges for defensive medicine were as high as $25 billion in 1991. That is an enormous figure. Basically what they are saying is that as much as $25 billion of the costs — this is not paid by strangers out there, this is paid by each of us in our health insurance premiums — is the result not of medical necessity but because of defensive practice occasioned by the existing medical malpractice legal system.” (Lieberman floor statement, April 27, 1995, reprinted by Health Care Liability Alliance).

When the Senate (temporarily) voted by a one-vote margin to curb the gargantuan fees obtained by trial lawyers for representing states in the tobacco-Medicaid litigation, a step later blocked by opponents, Lieberman was one of four Democrats to buck the party’s trial lawyer supporters by voting yes (Action on Smoking and Health, June 17, 1998, citing New York Times and C-SPAN).

With Sen. Spence Abraham (R-Mich.), Lieberman introduced the proposed Small Business Liability Reform Act of 1999, which would limit the exposure of small businesses to punitive damages and joint liability for non-economic damages in most cases, limit the application of joint and several liability to small businesses, and make it harder to add wholesalers and retailers to lawsuits against manufacturers. The bill has had trouble attracting support from other Democrats, however (World Floor Covering Association website).

With Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.), Lieberman introduced the Auto Choice Reform Act, bitterly opposed by trial lawyers, which would encourage car owners to opt out from the “pain and suffering” lottery in exchange for lower rates. “According to Joseph Lieberman, a co-sponsor, ‘our auto insurance and compensation laws violate the cardinal rule I think those of us in the business legislating have a duty to follow: to draft our laws to encourage people to minimize their disputes, and to encourage those who do have disputes to resolve them as efficiently, as economically, and as quickly as possible.'” — Bionomics Institute, “Driving Them Crazy”, August 15, 1997, citing Congressional Record, April 22, 1997. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) also supports the idea (Dan Miller, “Auto Choice: Relief for Businesses & Consumers”, Joint Economic Committee).

“Jim Kennedy, press aide for Lieberman, indicated that Nader, a lawyer, is watching out for the interests of his profession. ‘What he’s left out is the trial lawyers’ lobby which is bankrolling the opposition. They have the most to lose and they are the ones making money out of the system,’ he said.” (quoted in States News Service, May 3, 1995, after Ralph Nader attacked the Senator for sponsoring liability reform; available on Nexis, but not online).

Addendum: Although a strong supporter of gun control in general, Lieberman joined Republicans and a minority of Democrats on a 1992 procedural vote in support of preventing the District of Columbia from using liability lawsuits as a means toward that end. (S. 3076, vote #152, July 27, 1992) (DURABLE LINK)

August 8-9 — Break in Florida tobacco-Medicaid fee case? Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz says he’s determined to press suit against the Florida lawyers who extracted $3.4 billion in legal fees in the state’s tobacco-Medicaid settlement, saying they promised him 1 percent, or $ 34 million (see July 17). Dershowitz says he’s acting as “a pro bono who intends to give most of the money to charities.” “Where does he get his numbers? They’re preposterous. He has an ego the size of a mountain,” said an attorney for the lawyer-defendants. “Suing me is a serious mistake,” said Pensacola lawyer Robert Kerrigan, of Dershowitz’s action; we’d call that tone intimidating, under the circumstances. “These guys have chutzpah,” Dershowitz said. “I don’t care how rich these guys are or how many judges’ campaigns [Robert] Montgomery contributes to, I’m fighting back.” And: “Now the public can finally see the inside of the cigarette lawyers industry.” We can’t wait, since the record-breaking Florida fee haul has been shrouded in much secrecy up to now (see April 12) (Cindy Krischer Goodman, “Harvard prof suing lawyers over tobacco settlement”, Miami Herald, Aug. 2).

August 4-7 — Republican convention finale. No mention of legal reform in W’s acceptance speech, but the topic did make its way into the earlier remarks from the podium by Jan Bullock, widow of Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock (gopconvention.com).

August 4-7 — Now that’s bread. A San Francisco jury has awarded $121 million in punitive damages, atop $11 million in compensatory damages, to 21 black workers at an Interstate Bakeries plant (see July 10). Among the charges were hostile work environment, being subjected to racial slurs, and lack of promotions; one worker testified that he hadn’t been allowed to take Martin Luther King Day off although white workers had been allowed time off to watch the San Francisco Giants play. The company is known for making Wonder bread and Hostess snack cakes. (“‘Wonder Bread’ Workers Get $121 Million in Lawsuit “, Reuters/Yahoo, Aug. 3; “Jury Awards Workers in Bread Case”, AP/FindLaw, July 31) Update: judge reduces award by $97 million (see Oct. 10).

August 4-7 — Update: Hirschfeld convicted, sentenced. Eccentric New York City real estate developer, politician and public figure Abe Hirschfeld has been sentenced to one to three years in prison after being convicted on charges of trying to have his business partner killed. Hirschfeld still faces separate retrial on tax fraud charges, following a jury deadlock after which a mistrial was declared; in that case, Hirschfeld created a sensation by handing each juror a check for $2,500, a step apparently not in violation of any court rule at that time (see Sept. 13, Sept. 17, 1999). The judge in the murder-for-hire case, however, explicitly barred Hirschfeld from bestowing any gratuities on jurors after the case’s conclusion. (Samuel Maull, “Real estate mogul gets sentence of 1 to 3 years”, Phila. Inquirer, Aug. 2; same, Phila. Daily News.)

August 4-7 — “Ease up on kids”. Salt Lake Tribune criticizes school safety hysteria and the resort to suspension or expulsion for behavior that once would have merited a trip to the principal’s office. “Utah’s Legislature passed a law this year requiring that secondary education students be expelled for a year if they bring even a fake weapon to school, and it allows no review process through which real threats can be separated from pranks.” (editorial, July 28)

August 4-7 — Losers should pay. Environmental groups’ use of the courts to seek delays in large-scale development projects — which can inflict huge financial losses through the costs of delay even if the challenges eventually fail on the merits — points up the case for loser-pays principles, including bonding where appropriate, as in a recent Northern California case, argues columnist and Hoover Institution scholar Thomas Sowell. “Of all the ways of making decisions, one of the most ridiculous is putting decisions in the hands of third parties who pay no price for being wrong.” (“Costs and Decisions”, TownHall.com, Aug. 2).

August 4-7 — Take that, .hk and .tw. A Chinese law firm, suing on behalf of a dissatisfied consumer, has hauled Japanese-owned cameramaker Canon into court because some of its subsidiaries’ promotional material, including CD packaging and a website, list Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate “countries” in which it does business. Although Taiwanese have lived for more than fifty years under a government different from that of mainland China, Beijing’s official posture is still that the island is part of one China. Canon (Hong Kong) has apologized in newspaper ads, but the Chongqing Hezong Law Firm says its explanation is unconvincing. (“Canon (under) fire: China sues over Web site’s calling Hong Kong, Taiwan countries”, China Online, Aug. 1)

August 3 — Jury orders “Big Chocolate” to pay $135 billion to obese consumers. Lawyers charged Hershey’s with knowingly adding nuts to lure helpless chocoholic buyers. Keep repeating to yourself: it’s just a parody. … it’s just a parody (for now). … it’s just a parody. The Onion, August 2 (via Arts & Letters Daily). Plus: recently launched legal spoof site, ScaldingCoffee.com, profiles not-quite-true courtroom controversies such as the one over “Tapster”, the new system that allows Internet sharing of dance step patterns, much to the economic detriment of Arthur Murray franchisees (July) (latest).

August 3 — Wednesday’s GOP and legal reform. How many distinct references to litigation reform have come up in the Republican convention proceedings? We counted four on Wednesday evening (all favorable): they came in speeches by California small business owner Hector Barreto, dotcom exec Christina Jones, and, of course, vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney, who praised Gov. George W. Bush for his success in passing legal reform (“Today the legal system [in Texas] serves all the people, not just the trial lawyers.”) Then there was the comment made by the representative of the state of Washington when its turn came in the roll call: in a pointed reference to the Microsoft case, she said the Evergreen State was in favor of “innovation, not litigation”. If you spotted other references, let us know.

August 3 — CSE event in Philly. Citizens for a Sound Economy, which has been calling attention on the campaign trail to legal-system excesses, will be holding an event in Philadelphia today featuring its giant-fish mascot “Sharkman,” a “Who Wants to be a Trial Lawyer Billionaire” contest and more. The purpose is to honor lawmakers and other officials from Alabama, Illinois, Texas, and Florida who’ve stood up to the litigation lobby in their states. Specifics: Thurs. Aug. 3, 2-5 p.m., Maui Entertainment Complex, Pier 53 N. Delaware Ave., Phila. (CSE website). See you there? Adds the CSE website: “On Sunday, Senator [John] McCain [R-Ariz.] invited Sharkman and CSE staff to attend a reception with all of Senator McCain’s national delegates. Senator McCain grew fond of Sharkman during the primaries, often inviting him on stage in New Hampshire and South Carolina.”

August 3 — And what were the damages? An unemployed 56-year-old Los Angeles machinist named Cornell Zachary says he was the victim of a phone-number mixup in which the British pop group Duran Duran mistakenly posted his phone number on the Internet “as the one to call for T-shirts, souvenirs and tickets.” He then was kept running to the phone day and night by a vast number of wrong-number calls from fans of the group. And what were the damages, you ask — since without damages a lawsuit isn’t much of a lawsuit? Well, Zachary’s lawsuit, filed last week, claims he suffered ‘life-threatening high blood pressure episodes,’ nerve damage, sleep disturbance, and permanent health problems … ‘They had me to the point where my doctor told me I could have a stroke.'” Notwithstanding that dire medical advisory, he didn’t ask the phone company to change his number: “I don’t think that I have to change my number,”‘ he explained. “I didn’t make the mistake. I had had the number already over a year.” His suit also asks punitive and exemplary damages and attorneys’ fees. (Sarah Tippit, “L.A. Man Sues Duran Duran for Posting Number on Web”, Yahoo/Reuters, Aug. 1).

August 2 — Tinkerbell trademark tussle. On Friday in federal court in Scranton, Penn., a company called New Tinkerbell Inc. of New York sued the Walt Disney Company for trademark infringement of the registered trademark “Tinkerbell”, of which it says it and its affiliates are the exclusive lawful owners and licensees. The gossamer-winged character, whose continued existence is made possible only by observers’ willingness to suspend their rational disbelief in her (which already gives her a lot in common with many phenomena of the legal system) dates back to J. M. Barrie’s children’s classic Peter Pan, which has now fallen out of copyright and into the public domain, but the New York company says that it obtained the rights to use her name in commerce in 1952, a year before Disney released its hugely popular movie Peter Pan. There followed a line of “Tinkerbell-emblazoned products for children,” including shampoos, glitter, hair bands, “scrunchies,” umbrellas, sunglasses, pencil kits, and many more; for a while, the complaint alleges, Disney itself bought and resold New Tinkerbell items in its stores, but then decided it wanted to enter the field itself, and has since used on its products such marks as “Tinkerbell, Tinker Bell, Tink, or a proxy for a female fairy.” The suit accuses Disney of unlawful use of “a female fairy character in interstate commerce”. (Roger Parloff, “Fairy Serious Business: Disney Accused of Misappropriating Tinkerbell”, Inside.com, July 31)

August 2 — Judge rebukes EPA enforcement tactics. “In a harsh rebuke to the federal Environmental Protection Agency‘s pursuit of criminal polluters, a judge has ruled the government unnecessarily harassed a Northbridge mill owner and pursued a case against him even though it didn’t have any credible evidence.” Following up on a tip from a former employee of the mill, which makes wire mesh used for lobster traps, a “virtual ‘SWAT team’ consisting of 21 EPA law enforcement officers and agents, many of whom were armed, stormed the [mill] facility to conduct pH samplings. They vigorously interrogated and videotaped employees, causing them great distress,'” wrote federal judge Nathaniel Gorton. Moreover, EPA in obtaining a search warrant apparently concealed evidence from its own testing indicating that the plant’s wastewater emissions may not have breached federal standards. “The case marks the first time in the region that a judge has ruled in favor of an application of the Hyde Amendment, a three-year-old federal law that allows an exonerated defendant to seek legal fees from the government if the criminal prosecution was ‘frivolous, in bad faith or vexatious.'” (David Armstrong, “US judge rules EPA harassed mill owner”, Boston Globe, Aug. 1).

August 2 — Clinton before trial lawyers: a footnote. Press reports had been contradictory about whether or not prospective disbaree Bill Clinton in his Sunday speech became the first sitting president ever to address the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (see July 31, Aug. 1). Molly McDonough of American Lawyer Media appears to clear up the discrepancy: the only other president to visit the organization was Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but he spoke to ATLA’s board of directors, which leaves Clinton as the first to appear before the organization’s general membership (“Clinton Addresses Trial Lawyers at Annual Bash”, Aug. 1).

August 2 — “Mugging victim ‘stupid,’ judge says”. A judge in Winnipeg, Canada, has caused an outcry by acquitting an alleged mugger and then lambasting the complainant for openly carrying money in a dangerous neighborhood. “‘What I am satisfied is that we have a very stupid civilian, who admits that he was stupid,’ said [Judge Charles] Rubin, who interrupted the Crown’s closing submission Tuesday to deliver his verdict. ‘If you walk around jingling money in your hand . . . it’s like walking in the wolf enclosure at the city zoo with a pound of ground beef in your hand. And it’s almost the same type of predators you’re going to find out there.'” The judge also advised the complainant to walk in future in the middle of the street for safety, rather than on the sidewalk. (Mike McIntyre, Winnipeg Free Press, July 20).

August 1 — Clinton’s trial-lawyer speech, cont’d. In his partisan-fangs-bared speech Sunday to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the president brought up the topic of vacant seats on the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and accused Republican senators of deliberately not confirming black judicial nominees he’s proposed to that court simply because those nominees are black — which is to say, accused them of engaging in racism. (Neil A. Lewis, “President Criticizes G.O.P. for Delaying Judicial Votes”, New York Times, July 31). As Smarter Times points out (July 31), yesterday’s New York Times reported these rather incendiary charges and yet omitted to include any sort of response to them from Republican senators or anyone else, simply allowing Clinton to make them uncontradicted. For those interested in the issue on other than a demagogic basis, Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review Online wrote a piece July 17 adducing a sufficiency of non-racist reasons why senators might be leaving the seats vacant (other coverage in USA Today, New York Post).

However, the Times partially redeems itself by some original reporting on the exact nature of the differences between Democratic candidate Al Gore and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. It reported that Nader, “who has been closely allied with trial lawyers on the issue of civil litigation rules, said Mr. Gore was allowing the president to take the heat of associating with the lawyers while he was reaping the benefits. ‘He’s just slinking around taking money like crazy from these guys, and at the same time he’s not really standing up for the civil justice system,'” said Ralph, who himself has steered a different course from Gore at least as to the latter course of conduct, since he’s known for his vocal defense of virtually every trial lawyer depredation yet invented.

As AP reports: “Common Cause, a non-partisan group that advocates campaign finance reform, calculates that trial lawyers gave $2.7 million to Democrats in 1999. That is about 1,000 times more than trial lawyers donated to Republicans last year, and twice the amount donated in the same period during the last election cycle.” (Anne Gearan, “GOP keeping minority judges off bench, Clinton says”, AP/Bergen County (N.J.) Record, July 31). However, you would be wrong if you imagine that Common Cause, as “a non-partisan group that advocates campaign finance reform”, might see cause for concern that those donations might not entirely further the public interest. After all, Common Cause recently named as its president Scott Harshbarger, former Democratic attorney general of Massachusetts, who in that office worked closely with trial lawyers and in fact bestowed on them a tobacco representation agreement which brought them an unprecedented fee bonanza. And now Mr. Harshbarger, newly speaking for Common Cause and quoted in the Times piece, ardently defends the particular special interest he has reason to know best, saying massive trial lawyer donations are no more than an appropriate way of leveling the playing field given that those whom the lawyers sue — which includes pretty much every other group in the economy — also donate a lot to politicians. In the new Common Cause universe, it seems, some special-interest influences on politicians are a lot more objectionable than others.

August 1 — “Lawsuits to fit any occasion”. According to the L.A. Times, a 43-year-old local attorney has been involved in 82 lawsuits on his own behalf since 1982. Robe rt W. Hirsh “sued the single mother he hired to stain the woodwork in his Hancock Park Tudor-style home, claiming she left some streaks on the wood. He sued his stockbroker for not getting him into Microsoft stock.” He sued a dissatisfied client to demand his fee, and then, when an arbitration panel instead awarded the client $25,000 against him, sued the lawyers who had represented him in the arbitration. “Hirsh even sued the synagogue where he was married, claiming that the religious elders had botched the catering of his wedding by, among other things, serving his guests cold vegetables and not giving his family all the leftovers. ‘Either he has the worst luck in the world, or he likes to sue,'” said Loyola law prof Laurie Levenson. Many of the suits have succeeded in bringing him settlements, but Hirsh (who also disputes the number of cases in which his critics say he has been involved) now faces a proceeding under California’s rarely used court rules against vexatious litigants, which could curb his activities in future. (“Davan Maharaj, “Lawsuits to Fit Any Occasion”. Los Angeles Times, July 29).

August 1 — Movie caption trial begins. Trial set to begin this week in a closely watched lawsuit in which Portland, Oregon, deaf activists have charged movie theater proprietors with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because they haven’t installed elaborate captioning systems throughout the theaters (Kendra Mayfield, “Films Look to Captioned Audience”, Wired News, July 28). Meanwhile, the recording industry is concerned that a system installed to help the hearing-impaired at live concerts has become a prime vehicle for bootleggers to obtain concert tapes of unusually high quality for pirate sale; the ADA requires arenas to offer the assistive listening devices (Larry McShane, “Bootleggers Use Hear Aid to Record”, Yahoo/AP, July 30). And given the ADA’s many unintended consequences, outrageous results and manifest failures, Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman wonders why tenth-anniversary press coverage of the act’s passage took such an overwhelmingly celebratory tone; his column quotes our editor (“The Other Side of the Disabled Rights Law”, July 30).


August 18-20 — Why the bad guys can’t stand John Stossel. The ABC News correspondent is the one TV reporter who again and again has exposed and ridiculed in devastating style the abuses of litigation and misconduct of lawyers, the excesses of scare-environmentalism, and countless instances of over- and mis-government (his hourlong special “The Trouble With Lawyers” a couple of years back is just one of many highlights; Stossel’s website at ABC). You can bet he’s made a long list of enemies in the course of doing this, and now, after a flub by his staff in a report on organic foods (for which he apologized last Friday on camera) there’s a well-organized campaign under way to take his journalistic scalp. That would reduce from one to zero the number of prominent contrarian TV voices on many of these issues, leaving in place, of course, the large amount of vigorous advocacy journalism from the point of view opposite to his. A recent New York Times roundup on the controversy quotes our editor (Jim Rutenberg and Felicity Barringer, “Apology Highlights ABC Reporter’s Contrarian Image”, Aug. 14); if you wonder what sorts of grossly misleading stories the network newsmagazines have run over the years without anyone’s feeling obliged to apologize for them, check out our article “It Didn’t Start With NBC Dateline“.

Now the Competitive Enterprise Institute has launched a website project devoted to documenting and exposing the campaign to get John fired, and to collecting letters, petition signatures, and other signs of support so that ABC will know how big a fan base he has rooting for him. (SaveJohnStossel.org, temporarily hosted at counterprotest.net/stossel).

August 18-20 — “Caffeine added to sodas aims to addict — study”. Because most consumers in a small study could not tell by taste whether a soda had caffeine in it or not, some researchers at Johns Hopkins arrived at the conclusion that the substance appears in sodas for the sole purpose of “addicting” consumers. (Most of the biggest mass-market sodas offer a choice of caffeinated and non-caffeinated versions; typically the latter is considerably less popular with consumers, who are presumably helpless to choose between the products, enslaved as they are by their addiction.) “The study appeared in Archives of Family Medicine, which is published by the American Medical Association”. (“Pop made to hook drinkers”, Reuters/Detroit News, Aug. 15; “Cola makers rip study on caffeine addiction”, AP/Spokane Spokesman-Review, Aug. 15). Advocates who have participated in the demonization of the tobacco industry and other businesses have frequently denied that the food industry is next on the list. It’s certainly on some folks’ list, however. Last year Yale University researcher Kelly Brownell said: “I have called the food environment in the United States toxic … The food companies and their advertisers are, in fact, luring our children into deadly behavioral patterns … Sooner or later, the food companies will be considered in the same way we regard the tobacco industry.” (“Regulation by Litigation: The New Wave of Government-Sponsored Litigation”, sponsored by Manhattan Institute, Chamber of Commerce of the U.S., and Federalist Society, June 22, 1999, conference proceedings)

August 18-20 — Weekend reading: Macaulay’s bicentenary. Your editor being a longtime admirer of the great classical liberal Thomas Babington Macaulay, his latest Reason column is devoted to appreciating the Whig historian’s written legacy on the 200th anniversary of his birth (Walter Olson, “Confessions of a Macaulay Fan”, Reason, August/September). An outfit called Electric Book is generous enough to webpost downloadable versions of many of his essays, free for individual use (zip files of PDF documents).

August 18-20 — Snakes’ rights not always paramount. Notwithstanding endangered species law, New York environmental authorities have decided not to press charges against 72-year-old Phillip Wheaton for killing a protected rattlesnake that had bitten him. Wheaton had just stepped from his car on a rural road in Cameron, N.Y. when the timber rattler bit him on the leg. Wheaton proceeded to hit the snake with his cane, injuring it; it was taken to a veterinary hospital where it later died. “I had a fight with that snake and I won,” Wheaton said later. “I didn’t cause no fight with that rattlesnake but he caused it with me.” (“Slain serpent”, AP/Fox News, Aug. 16). Last year (Oct. 12) we reported on a court’s ruling, also in New York, that a private landowner was obliged to host rattlers on its property; it ordered the tearing down of a “snake-proof” fence that had prevented the venomous creatures from approaching an area where humans were at work.

August 16-17 —Fortune on Lerach. Don’t miss this long but grippingly reported account of the rise, prosperity and current woes of the world’s most widely feared plaintiff’s securities lawyer, Bill Lerach of the west coast office of Milberg, Weiss. Full of remarkable material new to us (Peter Elkind, “The King of Pain Is Hurting”, Fortune, Sept. 4). Earlier this summer the same magazine published a colorfully detailed account of infighting among the troop of plaintiff’s lawyers angling to bring down the HMO industry (John Helyar, “They’re Ba-a-ack!”, Fortune, June 26).

August 16-17 — Okay to make lemonade. In Eustis, Fla., the city government has backed down from an inspector’s attempt to close down the lemonade stand that nine-year-old Rachel Caine runs across the street from her home. (Stephanie Erickson, “Eustis officials back down from order to make girl, 9, close lemonade stand”, Orlando Sentinel/Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Aug. 9). And in Longmont, Colo., 11-year-old “Soda Girl” Caitlin Rezac is back in business with her fizzy-refreshment stand after a run-in with the Boulder County health department, which had busted her for operating without a hand sink and $110 license; a local business donated the sink (search Denver Post archives on “Caitlin Rezac” (excerpts free, fee for full story); letter to the editor from county official Ann Walters, Boulder Daily Camera, Aug. 12 (scroll) (via Liberzine)).

August 16-17 — Olympics website’s accessibility complaint. The United States isn’t the only place where controversy is simmering over websites that “exclude” blind and other disabled users (by not adopting design and syntax that cater to them). At a recent hearing of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Australia, organizers of the Sydney Olympics defended themselves against charges that they hadn’t made their website usable by the vision-impaired. (Rachel Lebihan, “Olympics web site riddled with blind spots”, ZDNet, Aug. 9). America Online has reached a provisional settlement of the complaint filed against it by the National Federation of the Blind (see Nov. 5); the online service pledges to alter its software to bring it into fuller compatibility with screen reader technology and says it will train its employees to be sensitive to disabled users’ needs, in exchange for which NFB agrees to postpone suing for a year (Oscar S. Cisneros, “AOL Settles Accessibility Suit”, Wired News, July 28). Also: a clip we missed earlier on Congress’s February hearing on this topic: “Do Web Sites Violate the Americans with Disabilities Act?”, TechLawJournal, Feb. 10.

August 16-17 — “City gun suit shot down on appeal”. An appeals court has unanimously upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the city of Cincinnati’s lawsuit against the gun industry, likening that suit “to the ‘absurdity’ of suing the makers of matches because of losses from arson.” Prominent tort attorney Stanley Chesley (see June 1, March 30), representing the city, says he will appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, which, ominously for the gunmakers, is currently controlled by a majority of justices well disposed to trial-lawyer arguments (see May 8, 2000; Aug. 17 and Aug. 18, 1999). (Dan Horn, Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 12; “Cincinnati can’t sue gunmakers for damages, court rules”, Reuters/FindLaw; text of decision (Cincinnati v. Beretta; retrievable Word document, not website).

August 16-17 — Web-copyright update: “Dialectizer” back up, “MS-Monopoly” down. The “Dialectizer“, a website that will translate another page of your choice into a variety of stagey dialects including Redneck, Cockney, Elmer Fudd and Pig Latin, is back up and running; we reported May 18 that the site had closed itself down for fear of being sued by businesses that might view such automated translation of their websites’ contents to be an infringement on their copyright. However, the “MS-Monopoly” parody site, which adapted elements from the popular board game Monopoly to comment on the Microsoft case (see Dec. 3) has been pulled down at the behest of lawyers for toymaker Hasbro, which puts out the real game: “MS-Monopoly.com ‘Cease and Desist’ed by Hasbro Lawyers“. In Forbes, Virginia Postrel says big companies are being shortsighted when they sic lawyers on fan sites that happen to use copyrighted material; News Corp.’s Fox properties, for example, have issued rumbling letters to online enthusiasts of cult shows such as The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (“The Shortsighted Site Busters”, Forbes/Reason Online, July 24).

August 15 — Plastic surgeons must weigh patients’ state of mind, court says. By a 3-2 margin, a New York court has allowed a claim to proceed against a cosmetic surgeon for conducting liposuction and abdominoplasty procedures on a patient while “fail[ing] to take into account that she suffered from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or a preoccupation with a minor or imaginary physical flaw,” which meant that her consent to the procedures might not really count as informed. The patient made at least fifty visits to the doctor’s office. (Michael A. Riccardi, “Doctor Must Weigh Patient’s Mental State”, New York Law Journal, June 29; Renee Kaplan, “What Should Plastic Surgeons Do When Crazy Patients Demand Work?”, New York Observer, July 31). (Update June 11, 2001: she loses in New York’s highest court). The American Life League, an anti-abortion group, plans to take a leaf from its counterparts on the left and launch a systematic litigation campaign based on malpractice, consumer protection and other theories to shut down abortion clinics, while a conservative writer suggests approaching sympathetic state attorneys general and getting them to file a tobacco-style megasuit against abortion providers (Julia Duin, “Pro-life advocates aim to hit clinics in the pocketbook”, Washington Times, Aug. 10; Chuck Morse, “Big Tobacco and the Abortion Industry”, EtherZone, June 12). In Erie, Pennsylvania, a judge has declared a mistrial in a medical malpractice trial after a juror fainted during the trial and the defendant physicians revived him; the judge thought it necessary, lest this act of kindness be thought to have improperly prejudiced the proceedings, to restart the whole ordeal from scratch (“Doctors accused of malpractice aid juror who fainted”, AP/CNN, Aug. 11). And Overlawyered.com‘s page on law and medicine has been selected as a resource by the MedExplorer medical search site.

August 15 — The Veep that got away. It’s been widely reported that the other finalist in the process by which Al Gore picked his running mate was youthful Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who’d have been an equally noteworthy pick from litigation reformers’ perspective but for opposite reasons: after briefly representing record companies Edwards “moved to Raleigh, N.C., in 1981 and became a plaintiffs’ lawyer. That made him a millionaire. His fortune has been estimated at $20 million to $50 million.” Edwards proceeded to sink an estimated $10 million from his own pocket into his first and only political campaign, knocking off incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth by 4 points. The Gore camp saw Edwards as telegenic, a skillful speaker and from an important state, but worried that his past could backfire among voters unhappy with trial lawyers for “doing things like suing doctors and winning big verdicts, which then drive up health care costs — and Edwards has been an incredibly successful one of that breed.'” (Michael Kramer, “Aides: Al Leaning Toward Edwards”, New York Daily News, Aug. 6).

August 15 — “Teams liable for fans’ safety”. A Colorado court of appeals has ruled that “sports teams must protect fans from known dangers — such as flying hockey pucks — unless lawmakers specifically exempt the teams from such liability.” Diane Smith, a lawyer for the now-defunct Denver DareDevils roller hockey team, said fans sit in the more hazardous area near the goal because they want the best view and “if you are going to sit where the action is, there are risks that go along with that”; appeal to the state’s high court is planned (Howard Pankratz, Denver Post, Aug. 4).

August 14 — Bush-Lieberman vs. Gore-Nader? Our editor contributes a guest column today (pinch-hitting for the vacationing Holman Jenkins) for Opinion Journal, the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s new online venture. The column discusses the strong record Sen. Joe Lieberman has compiled on litigation reform, the dilemma this poses for Vice President Gore, the wrath it calls down on his head from fellow Connecticut resident Ralph Nader, and the reasons why America is unusual in treating the pro-litigation position as “progressive” when it isn’t deemed to be such in much of the rest of the world (“Not All Liberals Love Lawsuits”, Aug. 14).

August 14 — “Disney must pay $240 million in sports park lawsuit”. A jury in Orlando “ruled Friday that the Walt Disney Co. stole the idea for a sports theme park from a former baseball umpire and his architect partner and must pay $240 million in damages,” a sum that the judge has discretion to increase because the jury found Disney acted with malice. “The notion that we had to steal the idea from the plaintiffs, an idea as old as ancient Greece, is preposterous,” said Disney general counsel Lou Meisinger, who said “the plaintiffs lawyers had tried to frame the case as ‘little people against big business’ and attempted to ‘inflame their prejudice.’ Plaintiffs’ lawyer Willie Gary”, well known for his work on the Loewen and Coke cases, “called Disney’s reaction ‘sour grapes.’ ‘We beat ’em and quite frankly we’ll beat ’em again if we need to,’ Gary said. ‘They’re crying like little babies.'” Another member of the team of plaintiff’s attorneys was Johnnie Cochran of O.J. Simpson case fame (CNN, Aug. 11; Beth Piskora, “Ump and architect sue Disney for $1.5 B”, New York Post, Aug. 10; “The Mouse Stole Idea”, Aug. 12; Yahoo Full Coverage).

August 14 — “Airbag chemical on trial”. Because of the airbag in her $30,000 Mercedes, Edith Krauss and her husband walked away from a 1997 crash that otherwise might have killed them. But Krauss is suing the luxury automaker anyway: she “contends that she has been plagued by throat ailments since the crash and they stem from her inhaling sodium azide, the chemical that allows for the forceful deployment of airbags.” The company says the concentration of the chemical in an airbag is too low to cause harm. Trial began last week in Elizabeth, N.J. (MaryAnn Spoto, Newark Star-Ledger, Aug. 8).

August 14 — Embarrassing Lawsuit Hall of Fame. Among recent lawsuits with details so embarrassing it’s a wonder anyone would file them: a Barberton, Ohio woman is suing an acquaintance in small claims court, saying he reneged on a promise to let her pay in sexual favors for part of the sale price for a truck (Stephanie Warsmith, “An unusual ‘contract’ is in court”, Akron Beacon Journal, Aug. 10); the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has recommended dismissal of a complaint by an employee of the town of Plymouth, who had charged that a town official inflicted a hostile working environment on her by (among other things) subjecting her to flatulence, the commission reasoning that the passing of gas is not sexual in nature (Aug. 27, 1999; not online, case referred by UCLA law prof Eugene Volokh); and an Ottawa man has sued a city hospital, saying it misdiagnosed a very intimate injury committed to his person after he got on stage at a club and allowed an exotic dancer to sit on his chest (Glen McGregor, “Man sues hospital over testicle removal”, Ottawa Citizen/National Post, Aug. 8; more exotic dancer litigation: July 26, May 23 (also from Canada), Jan. 28).

August 11-13 — Litigation reform: the Texas experience. Citizens for a Sound Economy releases a report evaluating the results of the 1995 package of litigation reforms enacted in Texas under Gov. George W. Bush (more about package, from Governor’s office). Prepared by the Perryman Group of Waco, Tex., the report estimates that the reforms contributed significantly to reducing prices, raising personal incomes and stimulating economic development in the Lone Star State, with resulting benefits to the average Texas household of $1,078 a year. (“The Impact of Judicial Reforms on Economic Activity in Texas”, Aug. 9; executive summary links to PDF document).

Earlier, Texas insurance commissioner Jose Montemayor estimated that insurance buyers in the state would save a cumulative $2.9 billion by 2000 through mandated rate reductions linked to the lawsuit reforms: “Tort reform has been a tremendous success.” (“Commissioner says tort reform saves Texans $2.9 billion”, AP/Abilene Reporter-News, Oct. 2, 1999). Trial-lawyer-allied groups soon attacked the figures (Terrence Stutz, “Tort Reform Savings on Insurance Overstated”, Dallas Morning News, Dec. 21, 1999, reprinted at Kraft Law Firm site), and have gone to considerable lengths to publicize their case since then (see Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Jim Yardley, “Bush Calls Himself Reformer; the Record Shows the Label May Be a Stretch”, New York Times, March 26, 2000, excerpted at Democratic National Committee site; now 404 Not Found, but GoogleCache has preserved a version). For a riposte from the reform side, see Tom Beaty, “Legal reform has brought benefits to business”, Houston Business Journal, Feb. 21, 2000.

And see: Constance Parten, “Texas Holds Its Own in Insurance Rates”, Insurance Journal, June 26, 2000 (reform package wasn’t expected to bring major savings in auto insurance, as opposed to commercial and medical lines, but did so anyway); Lone Star Report, Aug. 27, 1999 (scroll halfway down for item); and Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, Houston, has posted a variety of materials on the controversy at its website, including a summary of reforms; Jon Opelt, “$3 Billion Hardly Chump Change“; and Cora Sue Mach, “Governor Bushwhacked over Lawsuit Savings“. (DURABLE LINK)

August 11-13 — “Ohio cracks down on keggers”. Under a new Ohio law, people who want to give parties for which they’ll buy five or more kegs of beer must register the location of the party in advance, wait five days to take possession of the kegs, and “allow liquor agents and police to enter the property to enforce state liquor laws, a requirement that bothers the American Civil Liberties Union and others.” Several states have or are considering similar laws. “Maryland has required keg registration since 1994 to allow the containers to be traced to the buyer and the seller, both of whom are held accountable if minors are caught drinking the alcohol.” (Liz Sidoti, AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 8).

August 11-13 — Stay away, I’ve got a court order. Last year Maryland passed a new law allowing residents to apply for a civil restraining order to keep away people who they say have frightened or harassed them, a type of protection long available in matrimonial cases. Now the law is being used more than proponents expected, and not just by unmarried paramours and other intimates but as a way to settle — or escalate — spats among schoolmates, neighbors, co-workers and virtual strangers. (Donna St. George, “Residents Seeking ‘Peace’ Invade Md. Courts”, Washington Post, Aug. 7).

August 11-13 — “Not even thinking about” fees. With appeals and other legal maneuvering expected to last quite a while after a Miami jury’s $145 billion punitive damage award against tobacco companies, Knight-Ridder asked plaintiff’s attorney Stanley Rosenblatt about fees he might reap from the action. “It’s so far down the road that we’re not even thinking about it,” he claimed. (Uh-huh.) “Generally lawyers’ fees in class-action suits are about 25 to 30 percent of the award or settlement,” the news service reports, though it speculates that trial judge Robert Kaye might approve a smaller fee award than that, perhaps a mere $1 billion. Rounded off in the overall context, that would count as almost nothing, right? (“Smokers’ lawyers could get $1B — or zilch”, Knight Ridder/Norwalk (Ct.) Hour, July 26, not online). Plus: commentary by the Cato Institute’s Robert Levy (“Litigation Lunacy in Florida”, Cato Daily, July 31).


August 31 — Update: Alabama campaign-tactics case. A judge has sentenced prominent Alabama trial lawyer Garve Ivey to 30 days in jail after a jury convicted him on misdemeanor charges arising out of a smear campaign against the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Steve Windom (see Sept. 1 and Aug. 26, 1999). Shortly before the 1998 election, with Windom running a hard-fought race against a trial lawyer-backed opponent, a former prostitute and heroin addict named Melissa Myers Bush stepped forward with a lawsuit dramatically charging that Windom had raped and beat her seven years earlier when she worked for an escort service. Ivey, who was serving at the time as an official of the state trial lawyers association, paid to have 300 copies made of a videotape of Bush describing her charges, “which were distributed to news outlets across the state”. But as questions arose, Bush soon recanted and said she’d been paid to tell her story and that it was false. According to later testimony at trial, Bush accepted $2,700 from Birmingham businessman Scott Nordness, money that was later reimbursed by Ivey. Nordness was granted immunity by prosecutors seeking his testimony and charges were filed against Ivey and a private investigator who’d worked with him, Wes Chappell.

On June 22 a Mobile County jury acquitted Chappell of the charges and rendered a split decision in Ivey’s case, acquitting him on the felony count of bribing Bush to give false testimony while convicting him on two misdemeanor counts of witness tampering and criminal defamation. According to AP, the witness tampering charge arose from Ivey’s having gotten Nordness to sign a sworn statement after Bush’s lawsuit which, in prosecutors’ view, seemed to suggest that no money had changed hands in the case. Windom says he feels vindicated after two years and expects an apology from the state trial lawyers’ group, which he says tried to dodge the appearance of involvement in the smear efforts when trial testimony indicated the contrary. “The evidence clearly showed that there was a great deal of involvement at every stage. They need to come clean with the public and with their own members,” he said. (The AP coverage does not include a response from the trial lawyers’ group.) Ivey’s lawyers plan an appeal; still pending as well are civil suits that Ivey and Windom have filed against each other over the affair. Update: in July 2001 the Alabama Supreme Court reversed these convictions and ordered Ivey acquitted of the charges (see July 7, 2001).

SOURCES: “Ivey sentenced to 30 days in jail on witness tampering”, AP, August 9, not online, available on NEXIS; Garry Mitchell, “Chappell cleared, Ivey found guilty in Windom trial”, AP/Decatur Daily, June 23; Garry Mitchell, “Windom wants apology from trial lawyers”, AP state and regional wire, June 23, not online, available on NEXIS; Gary McElroy, “Former call girl testifies”, Mobile Register, June 16; “Chuck’s Page” (page by Chuck Harrison, a witness called in the case; scroll down halfway to “Just Desserts”).

August 31 — “Diva awarded $11M for broken dream”. Last week a Little Rock, Ark. jury awarded aspiring opera singer Kristin Maddox, now 23, $11 million “for injuries she suffered when an American Airlines jet went off a runway last year while landing in a thunderstorm”. Maddox was studying opera in hopes of becoming a star but says damage to her voice box and hands in the crash ruined her professional chances. Her lawyer, “Bob Bodoin, told jurors that no amount of money would make up for her pain and the loss of a career that could have rivaled opera stars Beverly Sills or Luciano Pavarotti’s”. However, a university voice teacher who evaluated one of Maddox’s pre-crash performances on video said she had a voice that, while “lovely”, was also too light to fill an auditorium in the Sills or Pavarotti manner. (AP/Philadelphia Daily News, Aug. 25; discussion on Professional Pilots Rumour Network boards).

August 31 — “Breaking the Litigation Habit”. The business-oriented Committee for Economic Development released a report in April which “calls our litigation system ‘too intrusive, too slow, and too expensive.’ The current system does not adequately or fairly compensate people for injuries; it imposes costs that threaten to impair economic innovation; and it undermines the trust and civility among our citizens that are essential to a well-functioning, democratic society.” The report goes on to endorse “Early Offers” and “Auto Choice” reforms, both aimed at providing rapid compensation for injuries without litigation (introductory page links to executive summary and full report in PDF format).

August 29-30 — Back-to-school roundup: granola bars out, Ritalin in. The Fallingbrook Community Elementary School, in an Ottawa suburb, has “banned all snacks except fruits and vegetables in an attempt to protect children with allergies”. Children in K-4 “have been asked not to bring cheese and crackers, dips, yogurt, candy bars or homemade muffins for snacks” for fear of triggering reactions in other kids with peanut, dairy, egg or other allergies. Fallingbrook parent Theresa Holowach would like to send cereal bars or homemade muffins with her eight-year-old son and kindergartner-to-be daughter but was willing to settle for rice cakes, cheese and crackers; her requests, however, “were refused on the grounds that the school would be legally liable if actions were not taken to limit the risks for children with serious allergies. ‘To me the school is going to have serious liabilities if my child chokes on a carrot because you’ve forced me to give her raw fruit and vegetables,’ said Ms. Holowach”. (Gina Gillespie, “School bans all snacks except fruit, vegetables”, Ottawa Citizen/National Post, Aug. 26).

Meanwhile, both the New York Law Journal and USA Today say there are other cases, besides the recently reported one near Albany, N.Y. (see July 26), in which schools are resorting to legal action to compel unwilling parents to dose their children with Ritalin, the controversial psychiatric drug. (John Caher, “New York Ritalin Case Puts Parents, Courts on Collision Course”,New York Law Journal, Aug. 18; Karen Thomas, “Parents pressured to put kids on Ritalin”, USA Today, Aug. 8). The Christian Science Monitor also reports on a different kind of legal pitfall that may await the non-medicating parent: in 1995 the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a $170,000 jury verdict against parents whose fourth-grade special-ed student attacked his teacher after they took him off medication that had reduced his aggressive behavior. (Katherine Biele, “When students get hostile, teachers go to court”, Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 22). However, the Wisconsin court stressed in that case that it was not imposing on parents a duty to keep the child on medication, but rather a lesser duty to warn the school if they decided to discontinue the drug (summary on Spedlaw.com website of Nieuwendorp v American Family Ins Co., 22 IDELR 551 (1995)).

The Monitor reports that educators are taking kids themselves to court over an ever-wider range of misconduct, especially defamation (see Sept. 28, Nov. 15). Most students are deemed “judgment-proof” but state laws specify a limited measure of parental financial responsibility for kids’ misbehavior, usually limited to such sums as $1,000 or $2,500, which can however escalate to unlimited amounts if the parents are deemed negligent, as in the Wisconsin case. And in Rhode Island, to update an earlier story (see April 19), two years of wrangling over whether Westerly High School sophomore Robert Parker was out of line to wear a rock band T-shirt displaying the numerals 666 have ended, with the school facing a cumulative bill for the dispute of $60,000. (American Civil Liberties Union/AP, July 6).

August 29-30 — Denny’s bias charges: let’s go to the videotape. Another day, another discrimination suit demanding money from the Denny’s restaurant chain on charges of racially based denial of service. But it so happened that a security video camera was running during the alleged Cutler Ridge, Fla. incident, and the story told by its tape was so at odds with the story the complainants were telling that their lawyer, Ellis Rubin of Miami, felt obliged to withdrew from the case for fear of facing sanctions if he continued. “In 1994, Denny’s settled a $46 million class action with hundreds of black customers who had alleged that they were refused service at the chain’s restaurants”; despite the diversity training it’s instituted since then it still faces many new public-accommodations suits, but its management vows to fight those that it considers opportunistic. (David E. Rovella, “Denny’s Serves Up a Winning Video”, National Law Journal, Aug. 24) (see also Sept. 29).

August 29-30 — Welcome Yahoo Internet Life readers. Last Friday’s installment of “Ask the Surf Guru” carried this nice accolade: “*** Special to Gwendolyn: Like Cassandra said in Mighty Aphrodite, “I see disaster. I see catastrophe. Worse, I see lawyers.” But better is seeing Walter Olson’s daily odes to odious lawyering at Overlawyered.com, where he chronicles how attorneys clog the drain of American life with lawsuits that redefine the word ‘frivolous.'” Thanks! (ZDNet/Yahoo Internet Life, Aug. 24 — final item).

August 29-30 — “Lawyers want millions as cut of Holocaust settlement”. “On April 12, 1997, Arthur Bailey, one of the dozens of lawyers who helped negotiate a $1.25 billion settlement finalized last month between Swiss banks and Holocaust survivors, bought a copy of the book ‘Nazi Gold’ by Tom Bower and spent 8.6 hours reviewing it. Cost to plaintiffs: $2,365, or $275 an hour.” Lengthy telephone conversations between lawyers and a half-hour interview granted by a lawyer to the Washington Post are among other outlays of lawyers’ time for which reimbursement is being sought in the $13.5 million fee request, which Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, described as “outrageous”: “We said from the beginning that the lawyers should be acting pro bono,” i.e., without compensation. (Steve Chambers, Newhouse News Service/Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug. 15).

August 29-30 — Imagine if she’d had a photo of a gun too. Police in Davidson, North Carolina “are defending an officer’s decision to search a woman’s car for drugs after spotting a photo of a marijuana plant on the cover of a newspaper in her car.” The driver, when stopped at 1 a.m., had a copy of an alternative weekly in her car with a cover story on police use of helicopters against marijuana growers, and consented to the search request, police said. A journalism professor says carrying such material could not possibly be probable cause for a car search. Nothing unlawful was found in the vehicle. (“Police say photo of marijuana plant sufficient cause for drug search”, AP/Raleigh News & Observer, Aug. 25) (via Progressive Review).

August 28 — “Man killed in gas explosion told to clean up rubble”. “One day after a Brooklyn couple died in a gas explosion at their home, city officials fired off a letter to the dead husband insisting that he was responsible for immediately cleaning up the rubble.” On July 11 a massive blast leveled the home of Leonard Walit, 72, and his 66-year-old wife Harriet, who were buried under the rubble of the four-story brownstone with a third victim. “The responsibility to [repair or demolish the premises] is yours, and because of the severity of the condition, the work must begin immediately,” declared the form letter from building commissioner Tarek Zeid, which warned the deceased couple that if they delayed the city would perform the necessary work and bill them for the expenses. Critics say the city should have known better given that the blast made big headlines, and a spokesman for the Buildings Department has apologized. (AP/Yahoo, Aug. 26).

August 28 — Campaign consultants for judges. At $15,000 a pop it gets expensive fast to hire professional campaign help, but elected Florida judges increasingly feel they have to shell out for two, three or four of the hotshot local consultants — especially since if they don’t put them on retainer, they might just find themselves facing a challenger who has. It’s another reason reformers are hoping to move to an appointive system. (Tony Doris, “Full-Court Press”, Miami Daily Business Review, Aug. 23).

August 28 — “Relatives find ‘proof’ they own New York”. “Descendants of an 18th-century privateer are hoping that a copy of an ancient lease discovered in an attic in South Wales may finally prove that they are the rightful owners of the world’s most valuable piece of real estate,” reports London’s Sunday Times. “For 120 years the descendants of Robert Edwards have been trying to establish their rights to 77 acres of Manhattan on which now stand Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, [lower] Broadway and the World Trade Center.” And who’s to say they won’t succeed, given the enthusiasm shown by American courts for hearing Indian land suits (see Feb. 1), liability claims arising from the sale of products in the first years of the Twentieth Century, and perhaps, before long, slavery reparation cases as well? (Simon de Bruxelles, Sunday Times (London), Aug. 22).

August 25-27 — Mich. high court: tough on working (arsonist) families. As the nasty race for the Michigan Supreme Court heats up (see May 15, May 9, Jan. 31), opponents have rolled out television ads assailing three Republican justices as “antifamily” and biased toward business, on the strength of 43 decisions they’ve rendered that supposedly fit that pattern. However, when the Detroit Free Press‘s Dawson Bell looked into the details, he discovered that among the rulings being flayed as “antifamily” is one from last year denying insurance coverage to “a pair of convicted arsonists who burned down a row of buildings”. A look at the rest of the cited court decisions likewise “indicates that the content provided in the ads borders on the bogus.” For example, in six cases the ad-makers counted government defendants in lawsuits — that is to say, the taxpayers — as “corporations”; they omitted a half dozen cases that obviously didn’t fit their pattern, while including “at least seven cases in which an individual won, or a corporation wasn’t a party;” and they included fourteen cases in which the court’s Democrats agreed with the outcome. Where’s the state Democratic Party getting the money for its big ad buy trashing the GOP judges? It’s hard to know for sure, but trial lawyers are said to have privately pledged millions to defeat the trio at the polls (see May 9). (Dawson Bell, “Party politics enters high court race”, Detroit Free Press, Aug. 3; Kathy Barks Hoffman, “Chamber runs ads to counter Democrats’ attacks on justices”, AP/Detroit News, Aug. 17; Charlie Cain, “High court race will be nasty, pricey”, Detroit News, June 23). Opponents of the three justices have mounted not one but two websites: AgainstMichiganFamilies.com and The Justice Caucus. But in fact “Michigan’s Supreme Court may be the nation’s best example of a court committed to interpreting the law — not manufacturing it,” contends National Review Online contributor Peter Leeson (“Michigan’s Supreme Court Is Supreme”, Aug. 22). That makes it a notable contrast with the high court in neighboring Ohio, where a narrow majority of justices last year (see Aug. 18, 1999) used activist reasoning to strike down legislated liability limits, and are now being heavily backed by trial lawyers in their re-election bids (Thomas Bray, “A Nation of Laws, or of Judges?”, Opinion Journal, Aug. 17).

August 25-27 — “Albuquerque can seize homes hosting teen drinking”. Under a bill approved by the city council of New Mexico’s largest city, you can now look forward to losing your house if the neighbors complain about repeated gatherings of tippling teens while you’re away. (Kate Nash, Albuquerque Tribune/Nando Times, Aug. 23).

August 25-27 — “How do you fit 12 people in a 1983 Honda?” Brazen, well-organized car-crash fraud rings thrive in the Big Apple, according to a series of New York Post exposés this summer. Other states are well ahead of New York in enacting legislation aimed at curbing fraud; meanwhile, the “Pataki administration is in court trying to overturn a decision in which the trial lawyers and medical profession successfully sued to have the state’s existing no-fault regulations thrown out.” June 25 (related story); June 26; June 27; July 16 (related story); August 6). Last year New York City recouped $1 million following the racketeering and fraud convictions of attorney Morris Eisen, a one-time major filer of injury claims who prosecutors say introduced fraudulent evidence in at least 18 cases, including three against the city (press release from office of Comptroller Alan Hevesi, May 18, 1999).

August 25-27 — Retroactive crash liability. Following years of lobbying by trial lawyers, Congress passed and President Clinton signed in April a new law retroactively raising the amounts payable in lawsuits to relatives of those killed in three air crashes over international waters, including the loss of TWA Flight 800. The little-publicized passage, “nestled on page 71 of a 137-page budget bill … carries an effective date of July 16, 1996” — almost four years before its signing. It abolishes old limitations on lawsuits set by the historic Death on the High Seas Act so as to expand the sums recoverable for “non-pecuniary” losses, such as the “care, comfort and companionship” of the deceased. The result is to ensure substantially higher payouts in litigation over the TWA crash, for which that airline and Boeing are being sued, as well as the Atlantic downings of Swissair Flight 111 and EgyptAir Flight 990. Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), who represents Boeing’s home state, had argued to no avail that it was unfair to expand the companies’ obligation retroactively. (Frank J. Murray, “Retroactive move allows big awards in TWA crash”, Washington Times, Aug. 24).

August 23-24 — Class actions: are we all litigants yet? If you’re a member of American Airlines’ frequent-flier plan, you may have received by now a class action settlement notice in which the airline agrees to make legal amends for the atrocity of having raised from 20,000 to 25,000 miles the point level needed to claim a free coach round-trip. After slogging through the legal jargon, St. Petersburg Times columnist Susan Taylor Martin finds that the “most that ‘class members’ in my category can expect is this: a 5,000-mile discount on a frequent-flier award or a certificate for $75 off on a ticket costing at least $220. Wow. But let’s read on. In return for negotiating this settlement, the lawyers representing me and other plaintiffs will apply for fees ‘not to exceed $25 million.’ No wonder we’re such a lawsuit-happy nation.”. She asks her newsroom colleagues if they’ve been represented in class actions, and they inundate her with responses. Then she goes on to cite this website, quote a number of comments from our editor, discuss proposed reforms that would redirect nationwide class suits to federal courts, and finally take up the much-recurring question: what’s the best way to discourage further legal excesses of this sort, to fill out and return the claims form, or toss it in the waste basket? (Susan Taylor Martin, “Is anyone not involved in a class-action lawsuit?”, St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 20). Also see Sarah Haertl, “Bill Limits Class-Action Fees for Attorneys”, Office.com, June 19.

August 23-24 — Funds that don’t protect. “Client protection funds” are supposed to reimburse persons who fall victim to thievery by their lawyers, but a National Law Journal investigation finds the funds “poorly endowed, stingy about payouts and virtually a secret, even to many lawyers, whose bar dues help finance them”. Many victims get just pennies on the dollar, or nothing at all: “cheated clients are getting twice betrayed by the legal professionals who should be protecting them”. (“Wronged Clients Face an Empty Promise in Some States”, Aug. 21).

August 23-24 — Fateful carpool. The consent of one’s spouse is no excuse for violating a restraining order obtained by her earlier, as Blaine Jeschonek has learned to his sorrow in Bedford, Pennsylvania. When Jeschonek, 44, arrived in court accompanied by his estranged wife Beth, Judge Thomas Ling promptly ordered him arrested and charged with criminal contempt for violating a court order forbidding him to have contact with her. “The Jeschoneks had traveled together to court to ask Ling to dismiss the restraining order. ‘I will not tolerate these orders being violated in my presence, under my nose, in my own courtroom,’ Ling said.” (“Pennsylvania man carpools to court and faces contempt”, AP/CNN, Aug. 14).

August 23-24 — Bankrupting Canadian churches? A remarkable legal story is unfolding in Canada, where down through the 1960s the country’s major churches, under an arrangement with the national government, administered residential schools for youths from Indian tribes. A significant share (perhaps 20 percent) of all school-age Indians attended these schools, thus being separated from native communities for much of their childhood. As ideas of multiculturalism made headway, the schools with their premise of assimilation to English culture came to be regarded as an embarrassing legacy, though at the time they had enjoyed the support of most Indian bands. In recent years adults who attended the schools in their youth have filed legal actions against the school proprietors, originally in small numbers over claims of past physical and sexual abuse, but more recently in much larger numbers, more than 7,000, with the predominant alleged injury among new cases being “cultural deprivation” years or decades earlier. Claimant recruitment by attorneys has played a major role in the expansion of the dispute; one lawyer alone, Tony Merchant of Regina, Saskatchewan, has assembled no fewer than 4,300 former school residents from across Western Canada to press claims. Although very few cases have yet reached court, early rulings suggest that the litigation may inflict money transfers and legal costs so large as to bankrupt or financially cripple some or all of the church defendants: the Anglican Church of Canada, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church of Canada and Roman Catholic Church of Canada (David Frum, “The dissolution of Canadian churches”, National Post, Aug. 19; “Tending the flock”, editorial, Aug. 16; Richard Foot, “Deputy PM to meet Church leader over bankruptcy crisis”, Aug. 16; Ian Hunter, “Paying for past injustice is unjust”, July 20; “Sins of the fathers”, editorial, July 17; Ferdy Baglo, “Canada’s Anglican Church Considers Possibility of Financial Ruin“, Christianity Today). (DURABLE LINK)

MORE RESOURCES: Law Commission of Canada; Anglican Church of Canada (main page; apology; in Oji-Cree syllabics (pdf)); United Church of Canada (FAQ, news); Turtle Island Native Network (resources, news); Diane Rowe for White Oppenheimer & Baker (plaintiff’s law firm); Jane O’Hara and Patricia Treble, “Abuse of Trust”, Maclean’s, June 26; “Residential Schools: An Essential Component of Genocide” (University of Victoria); Jay Charland, “St. Paul diocese part of $195M suit”, Western Catholic Reporter; Patrick Donnelly, “Scapegoating the Indian Residential Schools”, Alberta Report, Jan. 26, 1998, reprinted at Catholic Educator Resource Center.

August 23-24 — Welcome screenwriters. It’s hard to beat what goes on in courtrooms for sheer drama, which may be one reason at least two sites catering to professional screenwriters link to Overlawyered.com. CreateYourScreenplay.com gives us a nice encomium on its “Research” page (scroll down to “O”) and we also figure on the “Miscellaneous” links page of DailyScript.com.

August 21-22 — Tobacco- and gun-suit reading. National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor, Jr. pens a powerful critique of the tobacco litigation (“Tobacco Lawsuits: Taxing The Victims To Enrich Their Lawyers”, Aug. 1; quotes our editor). The American Tort Reform Foundation has published a review of the state tobacco suits, with particular attention to the questionable interrelationships between private for-profit lawyers and state attorneys general; the authors are well-known Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund and Martin Morse Wooster (“The Dangers of Regulation Through Litigation: The Alliance of Plaintiffs’ Lawyers and State Governments,” March 30, available through ATRF). Prof. Michael Krauss, of George Mason University School of Law, has written an analysis for the Independent Institute exploring the manifold legal weaknesses of the recoupment actions filed by states and cities against both firearms and tobacco makers (“Fire and Smoke”, orderable through II). And we’ve now posted online our editor’s op-ed from last month on the Florida jury’s $145 billion punitive damage award in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds (Walter Olson, “‘The Runaway Jury’ is No Myth”, Wall Street Journal, July 18).

August 21-22 — A thin-wall problem. A suburban Chicago attorney with Tourette’s Syndrome, the neurological condition that causes its sufferers to experience tics often in the form of uncontrollable utterances or gestures, is going to collect upwards of $300,000 in settlement of a lawsuit against the condominium association of which he and his wife were members. Jeffrey Marthon, 54, agreed in exchange to move out and to drop his suit contending that the association had violated fair-housing laws by attempting to evict him; the association had filed a legal action complaining of the noise from his involuntary hooting and foot-stomping. “Several neighbors said in affidavits that they were losing sleep because of noises coming from Marthon’s third-floor condo,” and engineers said it was impossible to install soundproofing to mitigate the problem. (Dan Rozek, “Man with Tourette’s cuts deal vs. condo”, Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 18).

August 21-22 — Fit to practice? The California Supreme Court, reversing a lower panel, has unanimously ruled against granting a law license to convicted felon Eben Gossage, a scion of an affluent San Francisco family who says he’s turned his life around and is fit to become an attorney notwithstanding an extensive record of past trouble with the law, most notably a manslaughter conviction for having brutally killed his own sister (Kevin Livingston, “Convicted Killer Denied California Bar Card”, The Recorder/CalLaw, August 16). At a June hearing, Justice Joyce Kennard “made it clear she was bothered by Gossage omitting 13 of his convictions on his Bar application.” (“How Long Is Long Enough?”, June 7). Several prominent Bay Area politicians had appeared as witnesses for Gossage, among them state senate president John Burton; after the one nonlawyer member of the lower disciplinary panel dissented from the panel’s decision that Gossage should be allowed to practice law, Burton introduced and helped secure passage of a bill which abolished that nonlawyer’s seat on the panel, sending, in the view of commentator George Kraw, an unsubtle message — “Don’t antagonize important legislators” (“Friends in High Places”, July 31; Mike McKee, “Court Sounds Leery of Bar Court Shuffle”, May 4; Mike McKee, “State Bar Court Braces for Upheaval”, June 29, reprinted at Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP site). Meanwhile, at least two lawyers implicated in California’s famous “Alliance” scandal are trying to regain their licenses to practice; the “Alliance”, a covert joint venture between plaintiffs’ and defense lawyers to manufacture and prolong legal claims for which the insurers would be obliged to employ legal counsel, bilked large insurance companies out of hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1980s (Mike McKee, “Scoundrel — or Scapegoat?”, The Recorder/CalLaw, June 13; more about Alliance (Kardos CPA site)).

August 21-22 — Watch those fwds. Last month “Dow Chemical, the No. 2 U.S. chemical company, fired about 50 workers and suspended another 200 for up to four weeks without pay, for sending or storing pornographic or violent e-mail messages. ” The “range of material” involved includes “stuff that would be in a swimsuit edition” as well as more offensive material, the company says; in a fit of mercy, it did not discipline workers who merely received such material as email and did not forward it to others. Under widely accepted interpretations of harassment law, companies that fail to take action against circulation of ribaldry in the workplace face possible liability for allowing a “hostile working environment”. (“Dow Scrubs 50 for Eyeing Porn”, Reuters/Wired News, Jul. 28). Workers who imagine that their email is private, readily deleted, and secure don’t seem to realize the current state of the law and the technology, says a risk-consulting division of law firm Littler Mendelson (Chris Oakes, “Seven Deadly Email Thoughts”, Wired News, Aug. 8). Nor are “anonymous” postings to bulletin boards really anonymous once the legal actors — including private lawyers — launch their subpoenas (Carl S. Kaplan, “In Fight Over Anonymity, John Doe Starts Slugging”, New York Times, June 2; Michael J. McCarthy, “Can Your PC Be Subpoenaed?”, ZDNet, May 24; Lauren Gard, “Yahoo Hit With Novel Privacy Suit”, The Recorder/CalLaw, May 15).