ARCHIVE -- JUNE 2003
June 20-22 -- Fast
food: give me my million. From an interview aired in Australia
with the plaintiff in the McDonald's obesity
CAESAR BARBER: I'm saying that McDonald's affected my health. Yes, I
am saying that.
RICHARD CARLETON: So what do you want in return?
CAESAR BARBER: I want compensation for pain and suffering.
RICHARD CARLETON: But how much money do you want?
CAESAR BARBER: I don't know … maybe $1 million. That's not a lot of
(Richard Carleton, "Food fight", 60 Minutes (Australia), Sept.
25, 2002). Only three years ago the possibility of suits blaming
food companies for obesity furnished The Onion with material for
humor (Aug. 3, 2000). "The parody
has become reality." (James Glassman, "From parody to reality", TechCentralStation,
21; Michael I. Krauss, "Today's Tort Suits Are Stranger Than Fiction",
Viewpoint (Virginia Institute), May).
A House panel heard testimony yesterday on a bill that would stop such
lawsuits in their tracks (Maggie Fox, "Is It Your Fault I'm Fat? Congress
Hears Debate", Reuters, Jun. 19; Bruce Horovitz, "Fast-food restaurants
told to warn of addiction",
USA Today, Jun.
17). A CNBC
poll, with 2000 votes as of midnight Friday morning, was running 92
to 8 percent against holding fast-food restaurants responsible for expanding
waistlines. (DURABLE LINK)
June 20-22 -- Investors'
Business Daily interviews our editor. Now at a stable
URL, last Friday's interview mostly concentrated on our editor's new book
Rule of Lawyers (David Isaac (interviewer), "Frivolous Lawsuits Creating
New Power Class -- Lawyers", Jun.
13, reprinted at Manhattan Institute site). (DURABLE
June 20-22 -- Batch
of reader letters. Special all-critical
edition -- nothing but letters taking issue with us. Topics include
the MTV "Jack Ass" suit, Ann Arbor substitute teachers, the ADA, high verdicts
as an inspiration to young lawyers, and medical malpractice. (DURABLE
June 18-19 -- Keep
playing in our conference or we'll sue you. Five schools
in the Big East football conference -- Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia
Tech, Rutgers and Connecticut -- have filed suit to stop Miami and Boston
College from departing for the Atlantic Coast Conference. (Eddie
Pells, "Big East accuses Miami, BC and ACC of conspiracy", AP/Kansas City
6; Sam Eifling, "Requiem for the Big East", Slate, Jun.
12; Steve Wieberg, "Conference changes becoming more hostile than ever",
15). Politicians have gotten into the act in support of the suit,
including (inevitably) Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal as well as the
state's Gov. John Rowland (Andy Katz, "ACC lawyer: Lawsuit will not distract
from expansion", ESPN, Jun.
12). Virginia AG Jerry Kilgore, too ("Virginia Tech, the Big
East and the ACC", Roanoke Times, Jun. 17; see S.W.Va. Law Blog,
17). S.M.Oliva comments (Initium, Jun.
6) (via Dan Lewis).
June 18-19 -- A
judge bans a book. "A tax protester may not sell his book
that contends paying income tax is voluntary, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Lloyd D. George wrote in an order banning the book
that Irwin Schiff is not protected by the First
Amendment because he has encouraged people not to pay taxes. 'There
is no protection ... for speech or advocacy that is directed toward producing
imminent lawless action,' George wrote in support of the preliminary injunction
on the book, 'The Federal Mafia: How It Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully
Collects Income Taxes.'" ("Federal judge in Las Vegas bans anti-tax book",
Reno Gazette-Journal, Jun.
16). (DURABLE LINK)
June 18-19 -- Texas's
giant legal reform. With the support of Gov. Rick Perry,
the Texas legislature this month passed what looks to us to be the most
serious and comprehensive package of litigation reforms achieved at one
stroke anywhere in recent memory. Among other features, it: adopts
an offer-of-settlement-driven variant of loser-pays;
reforms class action certification and requires that lawyers' fees be paid
in coupon form to the extent that class relief is provided that way; tightens
non conveniens safeguards against court-shopping; protects defendants
from having to pay damages attributable to other responsible parties' fault;
establishes innocent-retailer and regulatory-compliance defenses in product
liability law, along with a 15-year statute of repose; curbs artificially
high interest on judgments; limits appeals bonds; restrains medical liability
in a long list of ways including a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages;
and much more. ("Ten-gallon tort reform" (editorial), Wall Street
Journal, Jun. 6, reprinted
at Texans for Lawsuit Reform site; summary
of legislation at same site; John Williams, "Proponents cheer tort
reform", Houston Chronicle, Jun. 11). (DURABLE
June 18-19 -- Around
the blogs. Virginia Postrel (Jun.
5) has some comments from civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate criticizing
18 U.S.C. sec. 1001, which the feds are using to go after Martha Stewart.
This law makes it unlawful to lie to a federal agent -- even if you're
not under oath, and even though the agents may be free to lie to you.
See also the comment
from reader James Ingram. Mickey Kaus (Jun.
16) echoes speculation by "some media lawyers" quoted in the Washington
(James V. Grimaldi, "Blair Analogy Reaches Courtroom Far From N.Y.", Jun.
16) that the New York Times may have forced out top executives
Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd in part because if it hadn't done so, defamation
plaintiffs might have been able to use its forbearance "to devastating
effect" in future litigation. And MedPundit catches up at some length (Jun.
3) on the controversy over thimerosal, the mercury-containing vaccine
preservative which has given rise to bitter litigation and legislative
battles. (DURABLE LINK)
June 16-17 -- Probate's
misplaced trust. Washington Post investigation
into guardianship in the D.C. courts finds that the D.C. Superior Court's
division, "mandated to care for more than 2,000 elderly, mentally ill and
mentally retarded residents, has repeatedly allowed its charges to be forgotten
and victimized .... Chaotic record-keeping, lax oversight and low expectations
in this division of the court have created a culture in which guardians
are rarely held accountable. They are often handed new work even when they
have ignored their charges or let them languish in unsafe conditions."
The Post "found hundreds of cases where court-appointed protectors
violated court requirements. Since 1995, one of five guardians has gone
years without reporting to the court. Some have not visited their ailing
charges. In more than two dozen cases, guardians or conservators have taken
or mishandled money. Neglectful caretakers are rarely disciplined,
D.C. bar records show. Even when they have been caught stealing or cheating
clients, attorneys can go as long as nine years before they are punished."
Why have the courts gone on giving new work to lawyers charged with
misconduct or incompetence in earlier cases? "[Senior Judge Eugene]
Hamilton said he would hesitate to ban lawyers from future appointments
simply because they've been removed from a case. 'You have to be careful
about barring someone from cases, said Hamilton, who oversaw the probate
division from 1991 until 1993. 'It may be the person's only source of practice.'"
(Carol D. Leonnig, Lena H. Sun and Sarah Cohen, "Under Court, Vulnerable
Became Victims", Washington Post, Jun.
15) (via David
Bernstein)(& see Ethical
Esq.). More: Second part of article: Sarah Cohen, Carol
D. Leonnig and April Witt, "Rights and Funds Can Evaporate Quickly", Jun.
16). (DURABLE LINK)
June 16-17 -- He's
gotta have it. A Manhattan judge has granted a temporary
injunction sought by filmmaker Spike Lee against the launch of Spike TV,
a cable channel aiming to provide television programming of interest to
men. (Samuel Maull, "Spike Lee wins temporary injunction", AP/San
Francisco Chronicle, Jun.
12). However, "State Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub ordered
Lee to post a $500,000 bond to cover Viacom's losses in case the company
wins." ("Spike Lee outmans Spike TV", Newsday, Jun. 13; Mark
Perry, "Spike Lee Gains Upper Hand In Legal Battle With TNN",
13). At FindLaw, columnist Julie Hilden ("Spike Lee v. Spike
TV", Jun. 9)
is nondismissive about Lee's case, while conceding it raises questions
about whether other well-known persons with the same nickname, such as
director Spike Jonze, could also sue. Sentiment in the blog world,
on the other hand, seems to be running heavily against Lee (né Shelton).
of an Easily Distracted Mind, Doedermara.net,
June 16-17 -- A
tangled Mississippi web. "A web of connections exists
between the judges, lawyers, politicians and investigators involved in
a Mississippi judicial-corruption probe, raising questions about the fairness
and thoroughness of the investigation and about possible conflicts of interest."
Among prominent figures in the probe are "[plaintiff's attorney Dickie]
Scruggs as a cooperating witness and [state Attorney General Michael] Moore
as a co-investigator of some sort. And their friendship has raised eyebrows,
most recently after The Sun Herald witnessed Moore giving Scruggs
a lift to the courthouse before Scruggs testified before the grand jury.
... Scruggs has said he does not have an immunity agreement with prosecutors
and that he doesn't need one." A federal grand jury is expected to reconvene
next month to consider the allegations. (Margaret Baker, Tom Wilemon
and Beth Musgrave, "Web of connections", Biloxi (Miss.) Sun-Herald,
May 7 and links from there).
MORE ON INVESTIGATION: Thomas B. Edsall, "Mississippi
Trial Lawyers Under Inquiry", Washington Post, May
18; "FBI agent reassigned after questioning ties in judge-attorney
probe", AP/Grenada (Miss.) Star, May
29; Tom Wilemon, Margaret Baker and Beth Musgrave, "Lott, Moore
deny influencing probe", Biloxi Sun Herald/San Jose Mercury News,
30; "Moore says he has no role in judges probe", AP/Jackson Clarion
30; "Paper: Lott, judge probers talked", Jackson Clarion Ledger,
June 16-17 -- "The
rise of the fourth branch". Our editor's book The Rule
of Lawyers is reviewed in Enter Stage Right by ESR editor
Steven Martinovich (Jun.
9). And on Friday Investor's Business Daily published correspondent
David Isaac's interview with our editor; when we get a stable URL, we'll
post it. (DURABLE LINK)
June 16-17 -- "McDonald's
sues food critic". "McDonald's has sued
one of Italy's top food critics for raking its restaurants over the coals,
but the critic says he has no intention of going back on saying its burgers
taste of rubber and its fries of cardboard." McDonald's of Italy called
the comments by Edoardo Raspelli, food critic of the newspaper La Stampa,
"clearly defamatory and offensive". (Reuters/CNN, Jun. 2; BBC, May
30; Guardian (UK), Jun.
4; "McDonald's Turns to the Dark Side", Center for Individual Freedom,
12). David Farrer at Freedom and Whisky suggests a better approach
the company might take ("Shooting themselves in the foot", May
31). (DURABLE LINK)
June 12-15 -- Docs
leaving their hometowns. As liability
woes worsen, this genre of article is running in papers across the country.
Philadelphia, of course: Michael Hinkelman, "Like older docs, young M.D.s
fleeing Pa., too", Philadelphia Daily News, May
28. An example from Corpus Christi, Tex.: Robert M. (Marty) Reynolds,
"Why this doctor is leaving his hometown", Corpus Christi Caller-Times,
Apr. 23, reprinted at Texans
for Lawsuit Reform site. From Independence, Mo., best known as
Harry Truman's hometown: M. Steele Brown, "Malpractice 'crisis' drives
docs from Missouri", Kansas City Business Journal, May
2. And neurosurgery in Seattle faces a crisis as ten local surgeons
lose their coverage, forcing hospitals to send patients elsewhere; the
ten say they have good records but the chief operating officer of the Doctor's
Company, an insurance provider, "said about half of all neurosurgeons nationwide
are sued each year", which makes it plain enough that plenty of good ones
get sued. (Carol M. Ostrom, "A neurosurgeon 'crisis': Insurer drops
doctors' group", Seattle Times, Jun.
7). Meanwhile, the incoming head of the American Bar Association, North
Carolinian Alfred P. Carlton Jr., a partner with Kilpatrick Stockton LLP,
claims in an interview with The Hill -- no fair laughing aloud,
now -- that "I don’t think there’s any credible evidence that connects
anything going on in the justice system to the rise of malpractice insurance
rates. My malpractice rates are going up. Everybody's insurance rates
are going up, for all kinds of insurance." Now there's a checkable
proposition: have insurance rates for life, health, fire, storm, crop and
marine risks jumped by 60 or 80 percent on renewal in the past couple of
years, the way so many doctors' liability rates have? ("'There are
abuses at the edges'" (interview), The Hill, Jun.
11). (DURABLE LINK)
June 12-15 -- U.K.
roundup. "George Blake, the KGB spy who fled to Moscow
in 1966, has accused the Government of breaching his human rights by confiscating
£90,000 he was expecting to make from his memoirs." Blake, who escaped
from Wormwood Scrubs prison after serving five years of a 42-year sentence
for highly damaging work as a Soviet double agent, has petitioned the European
Court of Human Rights for the right to the money from the autobiography.
(Joshua Rozenberg, "Spy Blake tries to sue Britain for his lost £90,000",
16). "Meet Britain's most prolific race discrimination litigant.
Omorotu Francis Ayovuare, a Nigerian-born surveyor, may not have held a
steady job for five years: he has, however, earned a certain celebrity
in the world of industrial relations after launching 72 employment tribunal
cases alleging racial discrimination." (Adam Lusher and David Bamber,
"Give me a job - or I'll sue", Daily Telegraph, Jun.
8). (Update Dec.
13: at request of attorney general, court restrains him from further
filings). "The Scottish Parliament, fresh from outlawing hunting with dogs,
is to force fish-lovers to buy pet licences for exotic species in their
garden ponds and aquaria. ... Anyone who owns exotic fish without a licence
will face fines of up to £2,500." (Rajeev Syal, "Have you got
a licence for that exotic minnow?", Daily Telegraph, Apr.
6). Enthusiasm about lawsuits to recoup costs of global warming
has reached Britain, although as one Oxford physicist told the BBC, "Some
of it might be down to things you'd have trouble suing -- like the Sun".
("Suing over climate change", BBC, Apr.
3). (DURABLE LINK)
June 12-15 -- To
tame Madison County, pass the Class Action Fairness Act.
By ensuring that large nationwide class actions are heard in federal court,
the bill would curb the influence of "magic jurisdictions" in which "the
judiciary is elected with verdict money", as one big-league trial lawyer
has put it. (Jim Copland, "The tort tax", Wall Street Journal, Jun.
11; Mr. Copland is associated with the Manhattan Institute's Center
for Legal Policy, as is this site's editor.). The Madison
County, Ill. courthouse "is on pace to have another record year for
class-action lawsuits", reports a local newspaper. (Brian Brueggemann,
"Number of lawsuits is 39 and climbing", Belleville News-Democrat,
26). Two plaintiff's law firms, St. Louis-based Carr Korein Tillery
and the Wood River, Ill.-based Lakin Law Firm, dominate the filing of class
actions in the county (Andrew Harris, "At the head of the class actions",
Law Journal, Jun.
9). And Madison County personal injury lawyer John Simmons, 35, of
Edwardsville, whose law firm in March obtained a $250 million jury verdict
for a retired steelworker in an asbestos case against U.S. Steel, "has
announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by
Republican Peter Fitzgerald". ("Downstate lawyer to enter Democratic primary",
AP/Northwest Indiana Times, May
27). (DURABLE LINK)