ARCHIVE -- MARCH 2003
March 31 -- Gun-suit
thoughts. Our editor has contributed an op-ed to the New
York Sun outlining his view that the NAACP's lawsuit
against gunmakers (which went to trial last week amid a flurry of favorable
press notices; see Mar. 24) is plenty lame and derives
its only real vitality from having been filed before a favorable judge
(Walter Olson, "Gun Lawsuit Meets Activist Judge", New York Sun,
26). On an unrelated note, the House
Judiciary Committee has asked our editor to discuss federal pre-emption
of anti-gunmaker litigation at a hearing
this Wednesday before the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative
Law (Rayburn HOB 2141, 10 a.m.) (DURABLE
March 31 -- Teachers
in Baltimore County and beyond say the threat of lawsuits prevents administrators
from backing their punishment of disorderly or dishonest students." One
of the more thorough explorations of this topic we've seen recently (Jonathan
D. Rockoff, "Teachers say the law adds to disorder in classroom", Baltimore
23) (via Joanne
Jacobs). (DURABLE LINK)
March 31 -- Some
reader letters. We've fallen lamentably behind in publishing
readers' letters. Here's a
batch of four, on terrorism suits against foreign entities, Sen. Edwards
and cerebral palsy, one New Jersey judge's dismissal of a playground lawsuit,
and an unwelcome (to us) advertising intrusion into our newsletter.
Quite a few other letters remain in our pipeline -- we'll try to get to
them soon. (DURABLE LINK)
March 25-30 --
Fast food opinion roundup. "The word "addiction" is perilously
close to losing any meaning. If lawyers can turn fast
food into an addiction and pin liability on restaurants, it won't be
long before adulterers sue Sports Illustrated, claiming its swimsuit
issue led them astray." (Sally Satel, "Fast food 'addiction' feeds only
lawyers", USA Today, Mar.
12, reprinted at AEI site). One 270-lb., 5-foot-6 plaintiff "said
her regular diet included an Egg McMuffin for breakfast and a Big Mac meal
for dinner", but Chris Rangel at RangelMD concludes that the calorie count
doesn't add up -- the only way you could get up to 270 pounds would be
by consuming a whole lot more food than that. (RangelMD, Feb.
23). "Big Food stands charged with making the plaintiffs fat, notes
Howard Fienberg in a review of a fairly dreadful-sounding book on the much-ballyhooed
obesity epidemic. Yet "Grocery stores are easily accessible for most
Americans. .... Healthy choices are everywhere." ("Supersize Nation?",
As expected, attorney Samuel Hirsch has re-filed his suit against McDonald's
(John Lehmann, "McFatties Bite Back", New York Post, Feb. 20).
"And now, Hirsch tells Newsweek, he’s targeting companies selling
weight-loss products such as herbal supplements. Within weeks, he says,
his law firm will begin placing ads in magazines to invite clients who
bought the products but failed to lose weight to join a class-action lawsuit."
(Daniel McGinn, Newsweek, Feb.
10). See also "Tobacco-war lawyers taking aim at fast food", Sacramento
24; Duane Freese, "Frankensuits", Tech Central Station, Feb.
March 25-30 --
"How a lawyer blew the whistle on a judge". "It was the
most distasteful thing I ever had to do in my life" said Joel Persky of
his decision to turn in Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph A. Jaffe,
who offered favorable rulings in Persky's asbestos cases in exchange for
a cash quid pro quo (see Sept. 3, 2002).
Had Persky merely ignored the judge's overtures, according to one "seasoned"
lawyer, he might have been laying himself open to legal malpractice charges.
"Jaffe, 52, pleaded guilty last month to extorting money from Persky and
will be sentenced May 16. Jaffe has qualified for a temporary, $60,000
a year disability from the State Employees' Retirement System because he
is depressed. The system's board of trustees will vote on whether to award
the money in March." (Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar.
2). (DURABLE LINK)
March 25-30 --
Gone for a few days. The site will lie fallow while our
editor gives several speeches to promote his new book. See you Monday.
March 24 -- Mad
County pays out again. "A judge in Madison County, Ill.,
ordered Philip Morris USA Inc. to pay $10.1 billion in a class-action
lawsuit that claimed the tobacco giant misled smokers about the dangers
of light cigarettes." Circuit Judge Nicholas G. Byron "gave the plaintiffs'
lawyers a quarter of the compensatory damages, or nearly $1.8 billion."
("Philip Morris Hit With $10.1B Verdict in Illinois Case, Dow Jones/Quicken,
21; Trisha Howard and Paul Hampel, "Tobacco firm lawyer derides court's
reputation", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar.
stories; Sherri Day, "Philip Morris Faces Big Penalty", New York Times,
22). Madison County, Ill. is located east of St. Louis (map);
its main cities include Alton, Edwardsville and Granite City. For
more on its fame as a "plaintiff's paradise" and "judicial hellhole" for
defendants, see notes below, including work sponsored by the Manhattan
Institute, with which our editor is associated. (Update Apr.
2-3: Philip Morris says it is unable to post appeals bond; more
MORE ON MADISON COUNTY: "Study finds Madison County has
most class action suits per capita", AP, Sept.
11, 2001; Jim Getz, "Class-Action Suits Soar In Madison County, Study
Says; Think Tank Argues For Moving Cases To Federal Court", St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
11, 2001; John H. Beisner and Jessica Davidson Miller, "They're Making
a Federal Case Out of It ... In State Court", Manhattan Institute Civil
Justice Report #3, Sept.
2001; Noam Neusner with Brian Brueggemann, "The judges of Madison County",
17, 2001 (fee); Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Statement on Class Action
Fairness Act, Congressional Record, Nov.
15, 2001; Lester Brickman, "Anatomy of a Madison County (Illinois)
Class Action: A Study of Pathology", Manhattan Institute Civil Justice
Report #6, press release, Aug.
12, 2002. (DURABLE LINK)
March 24 -- Stalking
horse for anti-gun litigators. If the NAACP really
does have legal standing to sue firearms manufacturers and demand that
a court impose gun-control measures on them, one might reasonably conclude
that in the future anyone will henceforth have standing to sue anyone over
anything. Still, this notional standing has been the excuse for longtime
anti-gun litigators to make yet another pilgrimage to the Brooklyn courtroom
of federal judge Jack Weinstein, who's considered far more sympathetic
to their cause than most of his colleagues (Tom Hayes, "Ex-Lobbyist to
Testify for Gun Foes in Federal Trial", AP/Law.com, Mar.
21). Jacob Sullum comments on the resulting trial set to begin
today ("Jack B. Trick", syndicated/Reason Online, Mar.
21), as does Eugene Volokh, who points out that the arguments for holding
gun manufacturers liable would, if taken seriously, also lead to findings
of liability against liquor manufacturers for "foreseeable misuse" of their
wares -- not that some ambitious lawyers wouldn't like to do that too (Volokh
Conspiracy blog, archive link not
working, scroll to Mar. 23). The NAACP case seeks injunctive
relief; per the AP, above, Judge Weinstein "has decided the jury will play
only an 'advisory role,' leaving himself to make the final determination
on liability and remedy." For our earlier coverage of the suit, click
here. See also "Off Target: Anti-gunners again take aim at manufacturers",
(editorial), McAllen (Tex.) Monitor, Mar. 21; and Hunting
and Shooting Sports Heritage Fund site (& welcome Kausfiles
readers). Updated to include correct HSSHF link (DURABLE
March 21-23 --
"Lawyers find gold mine in Phila. pension cases". Philadelphia
exposes how the city's municipal pension funds enlisted as the complaisant
clients of two prominent class action law firms, Berger & Montague
and Barrack, Rodos & Bacine, which between 1996 and 2002 scooped up
$19 million in fees representing the city in securities
litigation. Then-Mayor Ed Rendell green-lighted the suits, and
also happens to have received $460,000 in contributions
from the lawyers since 1990. "'The truth is, there was just a bounty hunter
prowling the security industry, picking things and putting our names on
it,' said Joseph Herkness, the pension fund's former director. 'We were
told, basically, to sign these things.'" "It was an opportunity to
make money for the city without any risk," claims Rendell, who is now Pennsylvania's
governor. But perhaps not quite so much money as if the city had
driven a harder bargain: "Funds in Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and
New York City have trimmed millions off legal fees by seeking bids and
setting fees in advance," but not Philadelphia, the paper reported.
As reported earlier (see Jan. 31) the FBI
is investigating the actions of city officials in hiring the firms and
resisting a judge's efforts to encourage competitive bidding. (Joseph
Tanfani and Craig R. McCoy, Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar.
16; "Lawyer's responses scrutinized",
14). Name partner Leonard Barrack of Barrack, Rodos, a big-league political
donor, served as finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee
under President Clinton (Washington Post, Jan.
12, 1999); he has said his firm is cooperating with the FBI probe.
March 21-23 --
More notices for The Rule of Lawyers. Free-Market.net,
one of the major libertarian sites, names our author's new book "Freedom
Book of the Month", with reviewer Sunni Maravillosa calling it "clear,
compelling" and "very important" and saying its "revelations will likely
astonish most people who aren't intimately acquainted with the American
legal system" (March).
In a review for the Indianapolis Star, reviewer Peter J. Pitts applauds
the book as "insightful and frightening" ("Lawyers get rich; we get a warped
idea of blame", Mar.
15). And in American Hunter and its sister publications
(American Rifleman, etc.), National Rifle Association Executive
Vice President Wayne LaPierre uses his monthly column to call NRA members'
attention to the continuing outrage of the municipal gun suits and to The
Rule of Lawyers in particular (April, not online). If you haven't ordered
your copy yet, what are you waiting for? (DURABLE