Author Archive

Grist for the lawsuit mill?

Pfizer makes Celebrex, a cox-2 inhibitor pain medication, similar to Merck’s Vioxx. Merck voluntarily pulled Vioxx off the market when product tests revealed increased incidence of heart problems for patients who took Vioxx.

Today, Pfizer announced that a National Cancer Institute cancer prevention study found that Celebrex caused double the incidence of heart problems in patients who took 400-800 mg/day compared to non-Celebrex taking subjects. But another Pfizer study run by the NCI showed no increased risk. The 400-800 mg doses are four times the recommended dosages.

And it gets worse for Pfizer:

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New York Death Penalty Controversy

Ten years ago a mildly successful Republican state senator in New York won a huge upset — defeating the three-term incumbent governor of New York and Bill Clinton ally, Mario Cuomo. Part of the reason was probably Cuomo fatigue — he had been governor since succeeding Hugh Carey in 1983 and had been Carey’s lieutenant governor before that. But the biggest part of Gov. George Pataki’s victory was his promise to sign into law a statute reinstating the death penalty in New York.

Cuomo had vetoed numerous death penalty statutes. In 1994, New York had terrible crime, especially in New York City (which later dropped precipitously under Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly) and New Yorkers wanted to send the message that the state needed to get tough on crime and, especially, ensure that cop-killers would not walk free after 20-25 years (this was a big issue for supporters of the bills).

True to his word, Pataki signed a death penalty bill. By most measures, it was about as progressive a bill as death penalty provisions could get: requiring instructing jurors of the consequences of their sentencing decisions, setting up an administrative group of lawyers that would set fee rates for defense attorneys in capital cases (to ensure better quality representation), and mandating direct appeals of capital convictions to the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court). Ultimately, the statute seemed designed to insure the rights of the accused, be used only in extreme cases and be constitutional.

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Defamation or reputation protection?

Winning a defamation case in the United States as a private person is thankfully and notably difficult. Winning a defamation case as a public person (someone well known in the relevant community or a public official) is extremely difficult unless there is an unmitigated lie, and nearly impossible if the case comes down to one person’s word against another’s.

Often defamation actions are covers — one person who may have done something wrong will protest his or her innocence, sue and accuser and use the pressure of a lawsuit to obtain a retraction of some sort. Those lawsuits are discouraged in California by the SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, which penalizes plaintiffs for using defamation actions as swords to prevent defendants from exercising First Amendment rights.

The Monk won’t hazard a guess here about the merits of this lawsuit that former US track superstar Marion Jones filed against Vincent Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. That company is better known as BALCO, [alleged] steroid supplier to the superstars. Conte stated in interviews and in ESPN The Magazine that he personally witnessed Marion Jones inject steroids into herself and that he cut ties to her because she kept losing steroid paraphenalia on the road.

Jones has passed a lie detector test and testified to her innocence under oath before various athletic committees and in affidavits. But her ex-husband was thrown out of the 2000 Olympics for steroid use and her boyfriend is reputedly similarly dirty. On the other hand, Conte has never subjected his statements to the penalty of perjury.

40,000 emails, and counting

The next frontier in discovery in civil litigation is electronic discovery. Plaintiffs’ attorneys want more of it, big businesses want less. [Disclosure: my law firm works for individual plaintiffs, corporate plaintiffs, individual defendants (albeit rarely) and corporate defendants]. What is electronic discovery? For a starting point, take this definition from a Business Week article describing a potential rule change in Federal lawsuits on a party’s duty to preserve electronic records:

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Punch the Vote

An Ohio federal court judge held that punch-card balloting is not, in and of itself, racially discriminatory. The ACLU sued for a declaration that the punch card ballots in Ohio discriminated against minorities because minorities live predominantly in counties that use punch card systems. The full AP story is here.

The lawsuit alleged that most of the 92,000 ballots that did not have a vote for president recorded were punch card ballots.

Judge David Dowd held that:

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Judicial Hellholes III Report

The American Tort Reform Association today released its third annual Judicial Hellholes report — ATRA’s report on the worst court systems in the United States where “‘Equal Justice Under Law’ does not exist.”

Here is the press release from ATRA. The highlights, including the top nine worst areas (seven counties and two regions — all of West Virginia and all of South Florida) and a salute to Mississippi for its tremendous and far-reaching tort reforms are on this page. The full report is in PDF format here.

But there may yet be hope:

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The New Napster?

Major Hollywood studios, through their industry representative the Motion Picture Association of America, are suing more than 100 operators of computer servers that relay digitized movie files through on-line computer file-sharing networks, according to the Associated Press. The MPAA views the primary file-swapping services, eDonkey and BitTorrent as Napster-for-movies. The question is whether the argument will work.

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Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of . . . pseudonyms and a small blog.

Greetings. I am The Monk, founder and primary author of The Key Monk a small politics-and-sports blog I started in April and which my old high school buddy and I now work on in our spare time.

I am a lawyer in Texas who has run the law firm private practice gamut: large general practice firm to medium-size insurance defense firm (where I was on the frontlines in the asbestos wars) to a small commercial litigation boutique. No, I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot. I now practice primarily appellate litigation, which I prefer because it is analytical and there’s no discovery in appellate litigation. I have also worked as a prosecutor in North Carolina, a pro bono lawyer in Boston and was a journalist of sorts as the sports editor and advertising manager of my college newspaper.

The best work I’ve done as a lawyer is easy to select: my pro bono work for the Shelter Legal Services Foundation (formerly the Veterans Legal Services Project) — a foundation dedicated to providing legal help to homeless and indigent veterans, battered women and other people in the Boston area who cannot afford most legal services.

Hopefully I can bring some perspective as a practicing attorney who has worked in a variety of legal settings. I look forward to contributing to — long one of my bookmarks (sycophancy alert!) — for the next week.

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