Author Archive

State Bar Files Charges Against Prosecutor in Duke Rape Case

According to this Associated Press report in the New York Times, the North Carolina state bar has filed ethics charges against Mike Nifong, saying that he has violated several ethics rules — in particular the rule against making misleading and inflammatory statements to the media about those accused of a crime.

The bar committee said that it had opened the investigation just two weeks after the rape charges were first made, though it only filed the ethics charges against Nifong on Thursday. In addition to the public-statement charges, Nifong was also charged with dishonesty for certain statements that he knew were misleading based on reports already in his possession.

No hearing date has been set.

More on the Exxon Valdez punitive damages story

Following up on my post the other day about the lawyers’ share of the possible $4.5 billion Exxon payout — the WSJ Law Blog discussed this yesterday, and provided some additional and interesting numbers. The lawyers’ share of the award has been set at 22.4% of the final judgment, including interest. That’s smaller than the percentage in many contingent-fee agreements, but results in a lot of dollars here.

According to the WSJ, there are 62 law firms representing plaintiffs. Each firm’s share depends in part on how many clients it represents, and there is a three-percent “bonus” for the most-active firms. So each lawyer’s share of the $1 billion+ is a little hard to calculate, but partners at both Faegre & Benson and Davis Wright Tremaine estimated that their firms would each clear over $100 million. Faegre, for example, has 262 partners, so that would be $381,679 each — just $22,451 for each of the 17 years that the case has been pending, but on the other hand there were almost certainly long stretches where little if any work was being done.

Oops — almost forgot the actual plaintiffs. There are 32,677 of them, who will be splitting the other three or four billion (depends on the final interest award). Assuming it’s $3.5 billion, and assuming everybody has an equal share (which isn’t true), each plaintiff would recover $107,108, or $6,300 for each of the 17 years he or she has been waiting. Is it fair that each lawyer on the case will end up with three or four times the cash that an injured party is getting? Let the comments begin.

Plaintiffs’ counsel in Exxon Valdez case will try to survive on share of lowered verdict

The WSJ’s Law Blog reported recently on the joy being experienced by lawyers in the firms representing plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez case, their spirits dampened only mildly by the Ninth Circuit’s recent reduction in the punitive award from $4.5 billion to $2.5 billion. Those firms include traditional plaintiffs’ firms such as Milberg Weiss, but also firms normally seen representing defendants, such as Davis Wright Tremaine and Faegre & Benson.

How do Faegre & Benson lawyers feel about the prospect of sharing in perhaps one-third of $2.5 billion? “It’s great,” said partner Brian O’Neill to the WSJ. Any grief due to the $2 billion reduction is probably tempered by the amazing $2 billion in post-judgment interest that will be tacked onto the final bill. (Actually, maybe that’s not amazing in itself, since the case has been pending since 1989. Still, the interest “is not chicken s___,” as O’Neill put it.) O’Neill said of the titanic fee that is coming their way, “This is one of the few chances a bill-by-the-hour guy and a bill-by-the-hour firm has to get ahead.” I for one have been worried for some time about how the partners in these little “bill-by-the-hour firms” were managing to get by, so it’s good to know that for once they may have been able to afford that second can of beans for the family at Christmas dinner.

Damages in the case were estimated at about $500 million. The Ninth Circuit basically held that the evidence did not warrant a punitive award that went to the limit of what is permitted under State Farm v. Campbell, a 9:1 or “single-digit” ratio, and reduced the ratio to 5:1.

Post-Christmas Guestblogging

Hi — I’m one of your two post-Christmas guestbloggers. I’m a defense attorney in the San Francisco office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP, and I also write a blog called “Lowering the Bar,” which is a legal-humor site, for which, I hasten to add, SHB is not responsible. I have some experience with the unnecessary-lawsuit kind of story in particular, and I think I’ll be starting today with a recent California lawsuit against grilled chicken. Should have that posted in the next hour or so. Anyway, I look forward to blogging here for the next week. Thanks to Walter and Ted for the opportunity.