|ARCHIVE -- JULY 2000 (III)
July 31 -- Clinton's
date with ATLA. Bill Clinton's speaking engagement yesterday
before trial lawyers at their convention
draws this hard-hitting column by New York Post's Rod Dreher, who
writes: "Though he has signed a few small tort-reform measures, the President
has vetoed every major effort to rein in the berserk lawsuit culture, which
is turning civil courts into casinos for trial lawyers and greedy plaintiffs."
Dreher's column also quotes this site's editor at length about how tobacco
lawyers since their lucrative settlement have become "an institutional
ATM for the Democratic Party"; on how Gov. George Bush pushed through legal
reform in Texas, a state where they said it couldn't be done; and on what's
likely to happen if voters don't break the lawyers' momentum at the polls
this fall (Rod Dreher, "Greedy Dems Refuse to Curb Lawsuit Madness", New
York Post, Jul. 30). Best of all, Dreher refers to this site
as "the must-bookmark www.overlawyered.com".
July 31 -- No diaries
for Cheney. "A small anecdote about a large facet of his
[Dick Cheney's] personality. [At a White House dinner] in the summer of
1992 ... President Bush's sister turned to him and said she hoped he would
someday write a book, and hoped he was keeping a diary. He sort of winced,
and looked down. No, he said, 'unfortunately you can't keep diaries in
a position like mine anymore.' He explained that anything he wrote
could be subpoenaed or become evidence in some potential legal action.
'So you can't keep and recount your thoughts anymore.' We talked
about what a loss this is for history. It concerned him. It
was serious; so is he. Then everyone started talking politics again."
(Peggy Noonan, "The Un-Clinton", Wall Street Journal, July 26, subscriber
July 31 -- Nader
cartoon of the year. By Henry Payne for the Detroit News,
it depicts Ralph as the parrot on a pirate's shoulder, and you can guess
who's the pirate (at
News site -- July 25) (via National
Journal Convention Daily).
July 31 -- Our
most ominous export. Trial lawyers in the United
States have been steadily internationalizing their activities, bringing
the putative benefits of American-style product
liability suits to faraway nations. Now it's happening with litigation
against gunmakers: attorney Elisa Barnes,
who managed the Hamilton v. Accu-Tek case in Brooklyn, is
assisting a Brazilian gun-control group in a suit against local firearms
maker Taurus International over sales of its lawful product. ("Brazil's
biggest gun maker under fire from rights group", AP/Dallas Morning News,
July 31 -- Running
City Hall? Stock up on lawyers. "Time was
that most small cities in California were represented by one in-house attorney,
who likely had a sole practice on the side. Today, laws such as the
Americans With Disabilities Act, requirements
such as environmental impact reports
and intricate ballot initiatives make running a city too complicated for
that kind of legal staffing." (Matthew Leising, "Meyers Nave spins
cities' legal hassles into gold", National Law Journal, August 9,
1999, not online).
July 28-30 -- Clinton
to speak Sunday to ATLA convention. Confirmed on ATLA's
website: President Bill Clinton is scheduled to address the annual
convention of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America at Chicago's
Hyatt Regency on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., the first such appearance by a sitting
president ever, and another confirmation that this administration is friendlier
to the litigation lobby than any before it in American history. More
than 3,000 trial lawyers are expected to attend.
July 28-30 -- New
subpage on Overlawyered.com: Trial lawyers and politics.
Former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown has called plaintiff's
lawyers "anchor tenants" of the Democratic Party, and they're rather well
connected in many Republican circles as well (as for their longtime role
in backing Ralph Nader, currently running
as a Green, don't get us started). Is anyone keeping proper tabs
of their activities in the political sphere? We're not sure, but
figure it can't hurt to start a new subpage
on that topic.
July 28-30 -- Wall
Street Journal "OpinionJournal.com" launches. Today
the Wall Street Journal is scheduled to go live with its eagerly
which is expected to embody the crusading spirit of the paper's editorial
page. They tell us Overlawyered.com will be listed among OpinionJournal.com's
"favorite" sites, with a standing link.
July 28-30 -- "How
the ADA Handicaps Me". "I graduated from a good law school
but finding a job has been difficult, much more difficult, than I expected,"
writes Julie Hofius, an Ohio attorney who uses a wheelchair. "Getting
interviews has not been a problem. Getting second interviews or job offers
has been. ... The physical obstacles have been removed, but they have been
replaced with a more daunting obstacle: the employer's fear of lawsuits.
... job-hunters with disabilities are viewed by employers as 'lawsuits
on wheels.'" ("Let's get beyond victimhood of disabilities act", Houston
Chronicle, July 25, and Cato Daily Commentary, July
26). The tenth anniversary of the enactment of the Americans
with Disabilities Act has occasioned a flood of commentary and reportage,
an ample selection of which is found at Yahoo
Full Coverage. Check out in particular Carolyn Lochhead, "Collecting
on a Promise", San Francisco Chronicle, July
26, and Aaron Brown, "What’s Changed? Assessing the Disabilities Act,
10 Years Later", ABCNews.com, July
26 (sidebar, "Too Many Lawsuits?" by Betsy Stark, quotes this site's
July 28-30 -- Smoking
and responsibility: columnists weigh in. "I watched my
father die from smoking ... [he] would not have taken kindly to being portrayed
as an innocent victim of the tobacco industry," writes the New York Press's
John Strausbaugh. "The popularity of the fairy tale in which Demon
Philip Morris pins innocent victims to the ground and forces them to smoke
cigarette after cigarette until they die is another example of the way
Americans enjoy infantilizing themselves and shirking responsibility for
their own lives." ("Demoned Weed", Jul. 22). Legendary
Pittsburgh shortstop Honus Wagner, of baseball-card fame, "demanded that
his card be taken off cigarette packs because smoking was bad, and habit-forming.
That, my friends, was in 1910. Even back then we all knew cigarette
smoking was bad. ... When do we stop blaming other people?" (Steve
Dunleavy, "Cig-Makers Paying Price for Smokers' Free Choice", New York
Post, Jul. 16). $145 billion, the punitive damages figure
assessed by a Florida jury earlier
this month, amounts to "more than twice the gross domestic product of New
Zealand. It is, in short, a ridiculous number, pulled out of thin
air ...Why not $145 trillion?" (Jacob Sullum, "The $145 Billion Message",
Creators' Syndicate column, July
19). And even before the state settlement jacked up the price
of cigarettes for the financial benefit of state governments and their
lawyers, government was reaping a bigger profit through taxes from tobacco
than were manufacturers: roughly 74 cents per pack, compared with 28 cents'
profit for Philip Morris, according to Sullum. "Some will protest
that there is a moral distinction here. To be sure: While politicians and
tobacco companies both take money from smokers, only the tobacco companies
give them something in return." (Jacob Sullum, New York Times, July
20, reprinted at Reason site).
July 28-30 -- Lenzner:
"I think what we do is practice law". Profile of Terry
Lenzner, much-feared Washington private investigator in the news recently
for his firm's attempts to buy trash from pro-Microsoft
advocacy groups on behalf of client Oracle, and whose services are in brisk
demand from law firms and Clinton Administration figures wishing to dig
dirt on their opponents. Known for his operatives' irregular
methods of evidence-gathering -- he recommends posing as journalists to
worm information out of unwary prospects -- Lenzner recently addressed
a seminar at Harvard about his calling. "I think what we do is practice
law, although I use a lot of nonlawyers, he told the attendees."
(Brian Blomquist, "Gumshoe's reputation is all heel and no soul", New York
Post, Jul. 18).
July 26-27 -- Losing
your legislative battles? Just sue instead.
Lawyers for Planned Parenthood in Seattle have filed a lawsuit against
the Bartell drugstore chain, claiming it amounts to sex discrimination
for the company's employee health plan not to cover contraception.
Many employers' health plans curb costs by not covering procedures not
deemed medically necessary, such as cosmetic surgery, contraception, in
vitro fertilization, and elective weight reduction. Planned Parenthood
had earlier sought legislation in Olympia, the state capital, to compel
employer plans to cover contraception,
as has been done in about a dozen states, but strong opposition defeated
their efforts; running to court, however, dispenses with the tiresome need
to muster legislative majorities. A Planned Parenthood official said
Bartell was selected as the target for the test case "because the drugstore
chain is generally considered to be a good employer and progressive company"
-- that'll teach 'em. (Catherine Tarpley, "Bartell sued over contraceptives
coverage", Seattle Times, July
20; David A. Fahrenthold, "Woman Sues for Contraception Coverage",
Washington Post, July
22; Planned Parenthood of Western Washington advocacy site, covermypills.org).
July 26-27 -- Update:
Tourette's bagger case. The Michigan Court of Appeals
has upheld the right of the Farmer Jack supermarket chain to refuse to
employ Karl Petzold, 22, as a bagger in its checkout lines. Petzold
suffers from coprolalia, a symptom of Tourette's
Syndrome that causes him involuntarily to utter obscenities and racial
slurs (see June 9). "We find it
ridiculous to expect a business ... to tolerate this type of language in
the presence of its customers, even though we understand that because of
plaintiff's condition, his utterance of obscenities and racial epithets
is involuntary," the court wrote in a 3-0 decision reversing a trial court's
denial of summary judgment. Petzold's attorney vowed an appeal to
the Michigan Supreme Court. ("Court Rules on Tourette Suit", AP/FindLaw,
Jul. 21) (text
of decision, Petzold v. Borman's Inc.) (via Jim Twu's
FindLaw Legal Grounds).
July 26-27 -- "It
isn't about the money". An Atlanta jury has awarded
former stripper Vanessa Steele Inman $2.4 million in her suit against the
organizers of the 1997 Miss Nude World International pageant as well as
the Pink Pony, the strip club at which the week-long event was held.
Ms. Inman said organizers rigged the balloting to favor a rival contestant
and "blackballed her from nightclubs around the country owned by the Pink
Pony's owner, Jack Galardi", to retaliate for her refusal to do lap dances
on a tour bus, let herself be "auctioned off" to drunken golfers, or allow
her breasts to be employed in conjunction with whipped cream in a manner
not really suitable for description on a family website. The jury
awarded her $835,000 in compensatory damages, in part to make up for the
impairment of her earnings in the exotic dance field, plus $1.6 million
in punitive damages. "It isn't even about the money," she said. "Now
people believe what I had to say." (Jim Dyer, "Former stripper awarded
$2.4 M against pageant organizers", Atlanta Journal- Constitution,
Jul. 25) (more on litigation by strippers: May
23, Jan. 28). Update Apr.
17, 2004: Georgia Court of Appeals overturns verdict.
July 26-27 -- "Power
company discriminates against unemployed". In New
Zealand, the Human Rights Commission
is telling an electricity supplier to amend its "discriminatory" policies
regarding prospective customers who might have trouble paying their bills.
"A woman complained that her application to become a customer was rejected
because she was unemployed, did not have a credit card and did not own
her own home." The company has already agreed to cease asking applicants
whether they are employed, but the commissioners say it has been "indirectly
discriminating against unemployed people by requiring its customers to
have a credit card, own their own home and have an income greater than
$10,000 a year." ("Stuff" (Independent Newspapers Ltd.), Jul. 26).
July 26-27 -- Couple
ordered to give son Ritalin. A family court judge
in Albany County, N.Y. has ordered Michael and Jill Carroll to resume giving
their 7-year-old son Ritalin, the controversial psychiatric drug.
The couple, who reside in the town of Berne, had taken their son Kyle off
the medication, which is used to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity
disorder; they feared the drug was harming his appetite and sleep.
An official at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District proceeded to inform
on them to the county Department of Social Services, which filed child
abuse charges against the couple on charges of medical neglect. The
charges, which might have led to the son's removal from the home, were
dropped when they agreed before the judge to put Kyle back on the drug;
they will, however, be allowed to seek a second opinion on whether the
boy should get Ritalin and return to court to argue for the right to discontinue
the drug at some future date. (Rick Carlin, "Court Orders Couple
To Give Son Drug", Albany Times-Union, July 19 (fee-based
archive -- search on "Ritalin" or other key words to find story)) (update
-- see Aug. 29-30).
July 24-25 -- Update:
drunken bicyclist out of luck. A Louisiana appeals
court has thrown out a trial court's $95,485 award against city hall to
a drunken bicyclist who was injured when he ran a stop sign and collided
with a police car responding to a call (see Dec.
1). Plaintiff Jerry Lawrence's lawyer explained the verdict at
the time by saying, "Drunks have some rights, too". (Angela Rozas,
"No cash for drunken bicyclist", New Orleans Times-Picayune, May
20). Police chief Nick Congemi said one reason Lawrence got as far
as he did in his suit was that the department hadn't issued him a ticket
at the time for bicycling while intoxicated. "We learned a lesson,
too. Because he was injured so badly, we decided not to give him
any citations. ... we're going to change our policies on that. Here
on out, we're going to issue citations, even if they're injured."
More proof of the inspirational things litigation can accomplish! (via
"Backstage at News of the Weird", May
July 24-25 -- "Going
after corporations through jury box". Christian
Science Monitor takes a look at what comes next in mass torts after
the Florida tobacco verdict, which Lawrence Fineran of the National Association
of Manufacturers calls "really scary". Quotes this site's editor,
too (Kris Axtman, July
July 24-25 -- Welcome
Wall Street Journal readers. In its Friday
editorial on the sensational developments in the Coke discrimination case,
the Journal suggested people learn more by visiting this site (if
you're here to do that, see July 21-23 and July
19-20; click through from the latter to the big article on the case
in the Fulton County Daily Report). Thanks in no small part
to the Journal, last week (and Friday in particular) saw this site
set new traffic records. ("The Practice", July
21) (requires online subscription).
July 24-25 -- "Poll:
majority disapprove of tobacco fine." Gallup asked
1,063 adults their opinion of a Florida jury's $145 billion punitive verdict
against tobacco companies. 59 percent "disapprove", 37 percent "approve"
and 4 percent had "no opinion." Asked who was predominantly to blame
for smokers' illnesses, 59 percent said smokers themselves "mostly" or
"completely" were and 26 percent said tobacco companies were (20 percent
"mostly", 6 percent "completely"). Another 14 percent blamed the
two equally. Disapproval of the award increased among older age groups
and with political conservatism; the results are consistent with a 1994
poll on tobacco liability. In December the public was asked whether
it agreed with the U.S. government's view that gun
manufacturers could rightly be held financially responsible for the
costs of shootings; it said no by a 67 to 28 percent margin. (Carol
Rosenberg, Miami Herald, July
July 24-25 -- Florida
verdict: more editorial reaction. "Given the industry's
history of evasion and equivocation about the health risks of smoking,
it is tempting to welcome as a comeuppance a Florida
jury's $144.8 billion judgment against six tobacco companies. The temptation
should be resisted. The judgment is a disgrace to the American legal system
and an affront to democracy.... These issues should be confronted by the
people's elected representatives. They should not be hijacked by the judicial
process under the guise of a tort case." ("Smoke signal: An anti-tobacco
verdict mocks law and democracy", Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette, July 21). "Ridiculous ... outrageous ...
A ruling that completely ignores personal responsibility is a joke." (Cincinnati
Enquirer). "The biggest damages here may be to the reputation
of the legal system." (Washington
Post). "Monstrous ... Now that they have taken an unwise
gamble on their health, the Florida plaintiffs portray themselves as victims
of Big Tobacco. ... outlandish" (San
Diego Union-Tribune). "Falls somewhere between confiscation
and robbery" (Indianapolis Star). A "fantasy verdict" (Cincinnati
Post/Scripps Howard). "The bottom line is that courtrooms are not
the proper forums for setting public policy, and personal responsibility
should not be dismissed out of hand. " (Tampa Tribune). "Yuck....
[the] tendency to run from personal accountability is one of the least
attractive of modern human characteristics. A lot has also been said about
the wrongness -- yes, the fundamental wrongness -- of a system that makes
billionaires of attorneys based on their ability to minimize the responsibility
of their clients when a deep-pockets defendant is in the dock." (Omaha
World-Herald). "You don't have to love tobacco companies to
recognize the wrong that's been going on in Florida for the past six years....
[a lawsuit] ran amok." (Louisville Courier-Journal).
"Ambitious and politically motivated lawyers are usurping decision- and
policymaking that in a democracy is appropriately left to the voters and
their representatives. Tyranny of the tort may be putting it too strongly
-- at least for now. But who knows who will be next on the trial lawyers'
hit list?" (Chicago Sun-Times). "Justice is not served ...
ridiculous." (Wisconsin State Journal (Madison)). "Absurdly
excessive ... provides a further reminder that the national "settlement"
between Big Tobacco and the states aimed at curbing lawsuits over smoking
hasn't resolved much of anything." (Memphis Commercial Appeal).
"'This was never about money,' the plaintiffs' attorney said immediately
after the verdict. Whooooo, boy." (Des Moines Register).
Newspapers that approved of the verdict included the New York Times,
USA Today, Dallas Morning News, San Francisco Chronicle,
Journal Sentinel, Bergen County (N.J.) Record, Palm Beach
Post, Spokane Spokesman-Review, Buffalo News, and
Charleston (W.V.) Gazette.
July 21-23 -- Principal,
school officials sued over Columbine massacre. Three families
were already suing the Jefferson County sheriff's office, the killers'
parents and others, and now they've added Principal Frank DeAngelis and
other school officials as defendants.
After all, the more different people you sue, the more justice will get
done, right? ("Columbine principal sued by victims of massacre",
CNN/Reuters, Jul. 19). Update Nov.
30-Dec. 2, 2001: judge dismisses most counts against school and its
officials, parents having settled earlier.
July 21-23 -- Washington
Times on lawyers. Reporter Frank J. Murray's series
examining the legal profession has been running all week with installments
on lawyer image, the boom in pay, lack of teeth in the lawyer-discipline
process and more (July 17-21).
July 21-23 -- Complaint:
recreated slave ship not handicap accessible. A group
of disabled New Haven, Ct. residents is charging that the publicly funded
schooner Amistad, a traveling historical exhibit, is not accessible
to wheelchairs as required by the Americans
with Disabilities Act. The Amistad was the scene of an
revolt in 1839-1842 and its recreated version helps evoke the overcrowding
and other inhumane conditions of the slave trade. ("Amistad Raises
Concerns About Handicap Access", AP/Hartford Courant (CtNow.com),
July 21-23 -- Class-action
lawyers to Coke clients: you're fired. As we mentioned
yesterday, there have been sensational new developments in the Coca-Cola
Co. bias-suit saga, following an episode
in which a plaintiff lingered on the line after a conference call and heard
what his lawyers told each other when they thought they were among themselves
(see July 19-20). One reader writes
to say he found it "an interesting commentary on class
action litigation. The plaintiff becomes dissatisfied with the
way his attorneys are handling his law case. So the client fires
the attorney, right? Wrong. The attorney fires the client and
continues the case with other plaintiffs. What's wrong with this
July 21-23 -- When
sued, be sure to respond. A "default judgment" is what
a plaintiff can obtain when a defendant fails to show up in court and contest
a suit, and it's often very bad news indeed for the defendant, as in a
case out of New Brunswick, N.J., where a judge has ordered Wal-Mart "to
pay more than $2 million to a former cashier who said he was harassed and
fired after a boss learned he was undergoing a male-to-female sex change."
Ricky Bourdouvales, 27, says his troubles began when he confided to a manager
that he was in the middle of crossing genders, though when he was fired
in January he was told it was because of discrepancies with his cash register
count. The giant retailer says it will ask the judge to overturn
the award, saying it was aware that a document had been filed in May but
did not realize its nature. "We were totally unaware of the lawsuit,
and we want to have the opportunity to defend ourselves," said its spokesman.
("Judge Orders Wal-Mart to Pay Fired Transsexual $2 Million in Bias Case".
AP/FindLaw, July 18) (more on suits against Wal-Mart: July
7-9). Update Sept. 6-7: judge