November 30 — The right to be poisoned. Large numbers of urban apartments continue to have old lead-based interior paint on their walls, and you might think it makes obvious sense from a public health standpoint to take precautions to keep children who already show dangerous levels of lead in their blood from moving into such units. At least, you might think so if you weren’t among the “public interest” lawyers who’ve now successfully sued Northern Brokerage, a Baltimore landlord, over its policy of not letting lead-affected kids move into apartments where they might be exposed to more of the same. It’s a discrimination issue, you see: Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said it’s “hugely discriminatory” to turn families away from such housing just because their kids already display high lead levels. In a settlement earlier this month, “Northern Brokerage agreed to no longer require testing for children under 6 and to pay a total of $13,000 in damages to the plaintiffs and their attorneys.” Of course, if the kids’ blood-lead levels keep rising after they move in, other lawyers might very well step forward to sue the same landlords for every last dime they possess. But that’s only fair, too, right? (John Biemer, “Landlord settles lawsuit for refusing to rent to lead-poisoned families”, AP/FindLaw, Nov. 16).
November 30 — Welcome Mother Jones readers. MoJoWire’s “Alternative Election News Coverage” summarized one of our commentaries about a Gore lawyer’s dimple flip-flop (see Nov. 24). “Not everyone is happy that it appears the next president will be chosen by what some have called a tournament of lawyers. America’s litigation explosion was itself a subtext of the campaign, critics point out. Mr. Bush has called for tort reform to limit the ability of class-action lawyers to win big judgments. Mr. Gore has adopted the traditional Democratic Party position of trial-lawyer defense.” (Peter Grier, Justin Brown and Francine Kiefer, “All Florida becomes a stage for lawyers”, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 30 — quotes our editor). And we evidently spoke too soon when we praised a New York Times editorial on the Florida mess immediately after the election (see Nov. 10), since within days the paper had reversed its editorial line almost completely on the relevant issues (Elizabeth Arens, “Times falls back into line”, National Review Online, Nov. 28).
November 30 — Updates. Further developments in stories previously covered in this space:
* “Samuel Feldman, convicted in September for a two-year spree of bread and cookie destruction in a Yardley supermarket (see Oct. 6), was sentenced [Nov. 20] to 180 days’ probation and ordered to make $1,000 in restitution payment.” He also got a severe scolding from the judge (Oshrat Carmiel, “Bucks bread squeezer sentenced to probation”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 21).
* Falling upward in Washington state: “An assistant attorney general who lost one of the state’s largest civil cases and later shared blame for missing the deadline to appeal the case has been promoted to a new job in state government.” As we reported Sept. 13, state attorney general Christine Gregoire missed a deadline to appeal a $17.8 million verdict against the state, a goof that aroused widespread consternation in Evergreen State legal circles. Now assistant attorney general Loretta Lamb, whom an investigation saddled with some of the responsibility for the mix-up, has been appointed assistant vice president of Washington State University for personnel and business administration. (Eric Nalder, “Attorney in missed deadline case gets new job”, Seattle Times, Sept. 29).
* Although a Bridgeport jury last year gave Microsoft an almost complete victory in an antitrust suit filed by competitor Bristol Technologies (see Aug. 31, 1999), awarding only a token dollar, federal judge Janet Hall upped the award under a Connecticut trade statute to $1 million and Bristol is now asking for a new trial (Thomas Scheffey, “Connecticut Judge Socks Microsoft with $1 Million in Punitives”, Connecticut Law Tribune, Sept. 11; “What was the Microsoft Jury Thinking?”, Nov. 27).
November 29 — After an air crash, many Latin “survivors”. “Three of the 88 passengers and crew who died when Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed into the Pacific Ocean on Jan. 31 allegedly had something in common apart from their tragic deaths: They cheated on their partners, led secret lives and fathered secret illegitimate children, all of whom were growing up in Guatemala.” Or at least that’s the story being told by Coral Gables, Fla. lawyer Robert Parks, who’s filed wrongful-death suits against the airline, Boeing and other defendants on behalf of the alleged secret survivors. “The crash victims’ undisputed relatives and close friends say the stories have been fabricated in an effort to capitalize on the tragedy.” In one case, a 53-year-old San Francisco man who perished on the doomed flight is alleged to have recently fathered two Latin American children who deserved to collect for his decease, a story that ran into trouble when his outraged gay partner of twenty years, Dale Rettinger, 63, stepped forward to challenge it.
David Lietz, a Washington, D.C. lawyer hired by Rettinger to investigate the case, said: “We do this kind of work all the time and in the course of doing it, we’ve seen people who make their living lining up victims. It’s not uncommon to find people in Mexico or Central America who try to craft these stories and shop them around to lawyers,’ Lietz said. ‘It’s the aviation equivalent of ‘bus jumping,’ which is a bunch of people seeing a bus accident and running up to it so they can claim whiplash or something.” Many such claims come from Latin America, where “records are very bad and (false claimants) will swear under oath but say anything they want,” he added.
Families of two other victims also named as supposed secret fathers of Latin American children also reacted with indignation or incredulity. However, Parks, the Florida lawyer pressing the cases, says criticism is misplaced. “We wouldn’t have filed the lawsuits if we didn’t feel these people had claims. I don’t deal in coincidences … I’ve been involved in aviation litigation over 30 years, a lot in Central America and South America,” he said. “Sometimes in these areas, truth is stranger than fiction. … The process is going to sort this out. No one is trying to get something that isn’t there”. Parks is also preparing a claim on behalf of alleged secret offspring of yet a fourth Alaska Air crash victim, this time from a still unnamed Latin American country. (Scott Winokur, “Capitalizing On a Crash? Suits allege secret lives for some on fated Alaska Airlines flight”, San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 26) (via Aero News Network)(and see April 10, 2001, Aug. 3, 2001) (DURABLE LINK)
November 29 — “Clinton readies avalanche of regulations” “The Clinton administration is striving mightily to pour forth regulations on the environment, labor, health care and other controversial topics before Jan. 20 brings a new occupant to the White House.” So-called midnight regulations are especially common in cases where a new party is coming in: “The Jimmy Carter administration became renowned for stuffing the Federal Register with 23,000 pages of regulations during the three months before Ronald Reagan took office in 1981.” The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has launched a website, RegRadar.com, to monitor the last-minute onslaught (Robert A. Rosenblatt and Elizabeth Shogren, L.A. Times/Chicago Tribune, Nov. 26).
November 29 — “Hush — good news on silicone”. More details on the release of that new study (see Oct. 23) exonerating breast implants of a once-feared link to cancer, which the National Cancer Institute commissioned at great expense but whose results it quietly buried: “NCI press representative Brian Vastag says he was ‘forbidden’ by his superiors from touting the impending release of this study the way he normally does with other public health research. … So Mr. Vastag, who had already announced he was leaving NCI, defied his bosses and e-mailed names in his media Rolodex. ‘It drives me crazy when tax-funded public health research doesn’t make it to the public,’ he said.” (John Meroney, Washington Times, Nov. 22).
November 28 — Highway responsibility. A Fort Lauderdale jury has awarded $7 million to Diana Mancuso, 43, who was badly hurt when her car was hit broadside by a drunk driver six years ago. The drunk driver, Shane Peter Leanna, who was 23 at the time, served nearly two years in prison. However, the ones being ordered to pay the bill are McFadden Leasing Inc., which owned the sport utility vehicle Leanna was driving, and Next Generation Inc., which leased it to him. (“Woman gets $7 million in DUI case”, AP/New York Times, Nov. 23). And last month the mother of late National Football League star Derrick Thomas went to court to blame various organizations for his death following a crash in which he had been speeding on an icy road without wearing a seat belt. The lawsuit names General Motors Corp. as a defendant as well as local ambulance service Emergency Providers Inc. and Liberty Hospital, both of which tried to save Thomas after the accident and may now have reason to be sorry they got near him. (Cindy Lin, “Derrick Thomas (1967-2000)”, ChannelOne.com, Feb. 9; Kenny Morse, editorial, MrTraffic.com, Feb. 10; “Derrick Thomas’ mother sues GM”, Jefferson City News-Tribune, Oct. 11). Update Aug. 18, 2004: jury rejects suit against GM. (DURABLE LINK)
November 28 — “NCAA Can Be Sued Under ADA, Federal District Judge Rules”. “In a major defeat for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a federal judge has ruled that it qualifies as a “place of public accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act and can therefore be sued by a learning-disabled student who says its discriminatory rules barred him from getting an athletic scholarship.” (Shannon P. Duffy, Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), Nov. 14).
November 28 — Federal power over mud puddles? The Supreme Court is expected to resolve this term whether the federal Clean Water Act applies to “isolated wetlands that have no connection to major rivers or drainage systems flowing from state to state.” Environmental groups favor wide federal authority over “prairie potholes” and the like, which they say are important to migratory waterfowl. A brief supporting property owners, however, counters: “Under the Corps’ [of Engineers] interpretation of the [Act], its regulatory authority stretches to virtually every body of water in the country — including seasonally wet areas in homeowners’ backyards — because virtually any water body is or could be used as a feeding or resting place by some of the 5 billion birds that migrate over the continental United States each year.” The brief also warns: “The Corps’ rationale would justify federal regulation not just of all waters but of virtually all human activity.” (Warren Richey, “Wetlands and federal power”, Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 31).
November 27 — Follow instructions, please. Well before Election Day, the Gore campaign was ready for a massive recount campaign based on a 1994 manual called The Recount Primer, whose tactical advice presciently foreshadows many recent developments (Ryan Lizza, “Overtime: How the Gore campaign came back from the dead”, The New Republic Online, Nov. 16).
“Note: If you make a mistake, return your ballot card and obtain another. AFTER VOTING, CHECK YOUR BALLOT CARD TO BE SURE YOUR VOTING SELECTIONS ARE CLEARLY AND CLEANLY PUNCHED AND THERE ARE NO CHIPS LEFT HANGING ON THE BACK OF THE CARD. –Voting instructions, Palm Beach County, Florida”
“The capitalized words appeared on the voting guide clearly posted in every Florida polling station that used Votomatic machines and in leaflets mailed to many voters in Palm Beach. They are the only instructions on the flyer in bold capitals. … The [Gore] position, so far as I can glean, is that … [a] vote should be counted … even if the voter blithely ignores clear voting instructions” … A Gore victory through judicially imposed, loosely interpreted hand counts in South Florida will resonate across the country as the triumph of a liberalism that has replaced responsibility with victimhood, law with legalism, character with partisanship. Rather than challenging voters to a new civic responsibility, the Democrats are defining down democracy to include those who cannot even be held responsible for following a simple ballot instruction.” (Andrew Sullivan, “TRB from Washington: Bad Intent”, The New Republic Online, Nov. 22; see also commentaries on andrewsullivan.com, and Charles Krauthammer, “There is a good reason that casting a ballot is a precise act”, Dallas Morning News, Nov. 24). “[I]t is the voter’s duty to take reasonable care to record a vote. To correct that judgment after the fact is unfair.” (“Dimples aren’t votes” (editorial), Miami Herald, Nov. 24).
November 27 — Asbestos litigation destroying more companies. The lawsuits’ relentless logic is devouring more leading industrial companies. Armstrong World Industries, the nation’s pre-eminent manufacturer of flooring, failed to repay $50 million in commercial paper that came due Wednesday (Reuters/Yahoo, Nov. 22), and a Nov. 16 Bloomberg story said its parent, Armstrong Holdings Inc., may seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company’s stock, which stood at $36 in January, on Friday closed at 1 3/16 (stock chart). In early October (see Oct. 6-9) Owens-Corning, the number one maker of insulation, filed for bankruptcy protection (asbestos product makers list, law firm of Patten, Wornom, Hatten & Diamonstein).
Many of these concerns’ involvement with asbestos was both remote in time and tangential to their main operations. Of Crown Cork & Seal, the large packaging concern that closed Friday at 4 5/8, down from 24 in January and 50 in 1997, Yahoo/Reuters reported as follows: “Its only ties to asbestos-related products stem from an acquisition more than 40 years ago of a company that had a subsidiary that made insulation products, said Andrew O’Conor, an analyst with Merrill Lynch. It sold the insulation business three months after acquiring it, he said. ‘They’re more of a peripheral player,’ O’Conor said. ‘It was a tiny thing.'” (stock chart; “Crown Cork jumps on reevaluation of asbestos claims”, Yahoo/Reuters, Nov. 20). For trial lawyers’ ingenuity in identifying new defendants to name in suits, see June 1 and “Thanks for the Memories“.
Each removal of another solvent defendant shifts more litigation pressure onto remaining defendants. Owens-Illinois, the prominent glass and packaging concern, closed Friday at 3 13/16, down from 25 in January and 48 in 1998 (stock chart). Federal-Mogul (brakes, auto parts) closed at 2, down from 24 in January and 70 in 1998 (stock chart). W.R. Grace, the giant chemicals manufacturer much in the news lately because of the contamination of its Montana vermiculite mining operations with naturally occurring asbestos, closed Friday at 2 1/2, down from 15 in January and more than 20 earlier. (stock chart). Investment analyst Jim Cramer wrote last month that Armstrong, Federal-Mogul, and Grace, all longtime mainstays of industrial portfolios, now find themselves “on a death march to zero … I am combing through this embattled trio looking for signs that they won’t meet Owens’ fate. I haven’t found any yet.” (James J. Cramer, “The Death of the Value Stalwarts”, TheStreet.com, Oct. 25). Of the billions sunk in the litigation, a very high percentage goes toward the process itself, or other purposes other than actual compensation of workers for injuries. Meanwhile, intensive advertising and recruitment campaigns by law firms continue to attract thousands of new asymptomatic claimants into the system, while asbestos plaintiff’s lawyers are numbered prominently among instigators of the “tobacco round” as well as among the most prominent financial supporters of the Democratic Party and the Al Gore campaign. (DURABLE LINK)
November 26 — Sunday election special: votes only lawyers can see. “He squinted and stared, but Bob Kerrey was blind to the party line.” The Nebraska senator was making the South Florida rounds to talk up the Democratic line on the virtues of hand recounts and patience, but when he squinted at a ballot allegedly sporting an actual “dimpled chad” of the sort his fellow Democrats want to count, Kerrey admitted he couldn’t see it. “‘I better get out of here before I get you guys in trouble,’ Kerrey reportedly joked to his party’s team. But senator, isn’t it a little scary to decide an election with votes that only lawyers can see?” (Brad Hahn, “Nebraska senator sees sights — but can’t see chads”, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Nov. 25; Drudge Report transcript of Broward dimple-asserting). “On my local television station, the latest update was followed by the reassuringly familiar commercial for personal-injury lawyers Welch, Graham and Manby — ‘where winning is no accident’. That’s the spirit!” (Mark Steyn, “Even Al’s friends are sick of his dimples”, Sunday Telegraph (UK), Nov. 26).
On Saturday, the Broward County Election Canvassing Board conveniently decided to go looking for dimpled chads on 500 previously disqualified absentee ballots, even though on an absentee ballot the “voter can clearly see how he voted and whether the chad fell out, unlike the Votamatic machines used at polling places in Broward.” Did demonstrators, as Democrats claim, “intimidate[ ] the Miami-Dade canvassing board into canceling its planned recount [?]. Nonsense, say board members. ‘I was not intimidated,’ David Leahy told CNN. ‘My vote had nothing to do with the protests. It simply had to do with not enough time.'” (John Fund, “Gore’s Electoral ‘Lock Box'”, Opinion Journal (WSJ), Nov. 25).
“Vice President Gore’s effort to convince Florida election officials to count indented or ‘dimpled’ ballots as votes for him runs contrary to the practice in almost all jurisdictions that use the punch card system, with the notable exception of Texas, the home state of George W. Bush, his rival for the presidency. In the 38-year history of punch card voting, only a small number of communities have counted these ballots as valid, voting experts said. R. Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, a nonpartisan group that trains and certifies election supervisors, said that to his knowledge, with the exception of Texas, ‘no election official has counted a dimpled chad as a vote. Instead they tend to turn the question over to a judge, and historically courts around the country have said dimpled chads aren’t clear enough for them,’ Lewis said, stressing that he is not referring to Florida.” (John Mintz, “Most states don’t count dimples”, Washington Post, Nov. 24). Despite the Florida Supreme Court’s wholesale rewrite of the state’s election law after the fact, “it is still possible that the will of the people will prevail. … Broward County has for 10 years refused to count ‘dimpled chad’ as a vote. Now, it has changed that rule. … It may become necessary for [the Florida legislature] to exercise its responsibility and ensure a fair outcome to the presidential election of 2000.” (“Elections: A grand larceny” (editorial), Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), Nov. 24).
“Today, the courts — that is, the lawyers – run nearly every aspect of American life. … They tell us how much tobacco is appropriate. Who may buy and sell guns — and how. What level of care governments must provide the needy. They set taxes and school curricula. Now they mean to pick a president.” (“Government by lawyers” (editorial), New York Post, Nov. 24 — cites our editor). “Where has abandoning law and tradition left us? Courts have put the fate of the election in the hands of Democratic partisans reviewing pregnant chads only in Gore’s strongholds. … Is it any wonder that the rest of the world is laughing at us?” (“Comedy of errors of the lowest sort” (editorial), Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 24).
November 24-26 — Gore lawyers mishandled Illinois precedent. Lawyers for Vice President Al Gore repeatedly cited, and the Florida Supreme Court obligingly quoted at length and with approval, an Illinois Supreme Court opinion from 1990 which directed election officials to consider voters’ intent, which the Gore team suggested provided a rationale for counting punchcard ballots with the now-fabled “dimpled chad”. But in fact “the Illinois court actually affirmed a trial judge’s order to exclude dented ballots,” and a Cook County attorney who provided the Gore effort with an affidavit to the contrary last week now concedes that his recollection was mistaken (Jan Crawford Greenburg and Dan Mihalopoulos, “Illinois case offers shaky precedent”, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 23). “Doesn’t [Gore attorney David] Boies now have a professional obligation to inform the courts and others of his error?,” asks Mickey Kaus (“Hit Parade”, Kausfiles.com)
The generally liberal Miami Herald, which endorsed Gore in the election, editorializes that the Florida high court “made hash of Florida’s election law” and agrees with Gov. George W. Bush’s charge that the court “has changed the rules after the election”. It cites “the court’s unseemly willingness to stand in for the Legislature and create a new election scheme … by deciding that the counts could continue until as late as Monday morning, the justices have substituted their own deadlines for those that have long existed in state law and that Secretary [of State Katherine] Harris was sworn to uphold.” (“A muddled ruling raises questions of fairness” (editorial), Miami Herald, Nov. 23). On the New York Times op-ed page, New Republic legal affairs correspondent Jeffrey Rosen calls the Florida court’s rewrite of state election law “a bold example of judicial activism” in which the court “vastly overplayed its hand” and which “has made the justices appear to be partisans rather than neutral arbiters”. Rosen says the ruling allows Republicans to “argue plausibly that activist Democratic judges changed the counting rules in the middle of the game, only after it was obvious that the Democratic candidate needed dimpled ballots to win”. (“Florida’s Justices Pushed Too Far”, Nov. 23).
November 24-26 — “Qwest ordered to pay AT&T $350 million”. A Travis County, Texas jury has voted $1.2 million in actual damages and $350 million in punitive damages against telecommunications carrier Qwest for negligently cutting an AT&T fiber-optic phone line on several occasions in 1997. “It’s not unique that a fiber line gets cut. It’s unique it gets to [a] jury and gets this far down the road,” an investment analyst told the Austin American-Statesman. “We tried to send a message,” said a juror, as usual. “The only way to do that was to make the stockholders feel it in the bottom line.” (AP/CNet, Nov. 15).
November 24-26 — “Company Is Told to Stay and Face New Union”. A Los Angeles federal judge, “acting on a union’s complaint, has … issued a preliminary injunction preventing Quadrtech, a small manufacturer of earrings and ear-piercing machines, from laying off 118 newly unionized workers and moving its manufacturing operations to Tijuana until labor complaints against it are resolved. … Lawyers at the National Labor Relations Board, which petitioned the court on behalf of the workers, said this was the first time an American company trying to keep out a union had been prevented from leaving the United States.” (Anthony DePalma, New York Times, Nov. 23).
November 22-23 — “Gore’s point man argued against dimples in 1996”. Attorney Dennis Newman of Boston is now the point man in charge of putting Al Gore in the White House by insisting that “dimples show the true intent of the voter. Voters caused those dimples. Dimples should count. Four years ago, in a similar election spat, Newman took a much different stand. Employing his best legal tactics on behalf of a Democrat holding a slight lead in a primary race for Congress, Newman scoffed at the idea of counting the tiny indentations as votes.” Back in that case, Newman endorsed the series of propositions now urged by Republicans about the tiny indentations: that they could have been inflicted by later handling, that they could represent hesitation marks (the kind coroners find on suicides — ed.), and so forth. (Joel Engelhardt, Palm Beach Post, Nov. 22). Although the press has widely echoed the assertion of Gore attorneys that federal courts stay out of state electoral disputes — even, purportedly, when the elections are for federal offices such as president — Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor argues that there is squarely opposed precedent to the contrary in the Eleventh Circuit, which includes both Alabama and Florida. In Roe v. Alabama (1995), the Eleventh Circuit found a federal constitutional violation in state balloting irregularities that accompanied a very close race, including a court order which appeared to change the rules after the election as to which votes would count. Moreover, the federal court intervened in Roe even though the election was for Alabama state office, not federal office (“Attorney General Bill Pryor and Secretary of State Jim Bennett File Friend of the Court Brief in Presidential Election Dispute”, Office of the Alabama Attorney General, Nov. 20, links to PDF document). (DURABLE LINK)
November 22-23 — “Descent into the lawyerclysm”. Humorix, the Linux-oriented parody site, takes off from the Florida election mess to imagine the lawsuit-ridden dystopia of the not too distant future: “Nuclear weapons are scrapped and replaced by subpoenas. … While most forms of physical violence ceases, the ensuing legal violence is far, far worse — a fleet of lawyers can bring poverty and bankruptcy to billions of innocent civilians within a matter of hours. Stage 6. World economy collapses under the weight of overlawyering.” (Jon Splatz, Nov. 19).
November 22-23 — Don’t do it, Tillie! Tillie Tooter, 84, gained national attention in August when she survived for three days trapped in her wrecked car, which had gone over a Florida interstate highway abutment; she “survived by capturing rainwater in a steering wheel cover and divvying up a stick of gum, a cough drop and a mint.” Now a lawyer is representing her and has “put her rescuers on notice that she intends to sue them for not finding her sooner”. Jim Romenesko at Obscure Store has some advice for her: you’re an old lady, you really don’t want to spend your remaining days hanging around lawyers and courtrooms. (Jodie Needle, “Tillie Tooter to sue Lauderdale, FHP for not finding her sooner in wreck”, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Nov. 16).
November 22-23 — France OKs wrongful-birth suit. “A severely disabled French boy has won a landmark case against medical authorities for allowing him to be born rather than aborted.” Josette and Christian Perruche sued doctors for negligently failing to realize that Josette had contracted rubella (German measles) during her pregnancy; their son Nicolas was born deaf, part-blind and with mental disabilities as a result. “Would my son really have wanted to live if he’d known he had all these disabilities?” asked Christian. “That’s the question I’m posing.” (“Boy compensated for being born”, BBC, Nov. 17).
November 22-23 — “eBay suit wins class-action status”. San Diego Superior Court Judge Linda B. Quinn has granted class-action status to a suit against eBay that “alleges the largest Internet auction company is liable for facilitating the sale of fake sports memorabilia”. (“eBay suit wins class-action status”, Bloomberg News/CNet, Nov. 19) “If successful, the suit could undermine eBay’s business model,” the Industry Standard reported earlier this year (see July 13). “Legal experts say that if the company can be held liable for the actions of its users, it is likely to face a flurry of suits that would severely handicap its business.” Also earlier this year four New Jersey teens “were treated for vomiting and disorientation after taking a substance called dextromethorphan, or DXM”, which one of them had bought on the online flea market. (Mylene Mangalindan, “Is eBay Liable in Drug Sale?”, WSJ Interactive/ZDNet, May 31)(see letter, Jan. 16).
November 22-23 — Canada reins in expert witnesses. “The Supreme Court of Canada accelerated its campaign against doubtful expert witnesses [Nov. 9], ruling that ‘novel scientific evidence’ from a Quebec sexologist had no place in a criminal trial.” Like the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark 1994 Daubert decision, the Canadian high court urges judges to take responsibility as “gatekeepers” to exclude dubious testimony. (Kirk Makin, “Top court reins in use of experts”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Nov. 10).
November 21 — The O.J. trial of politics. By early in the morning after the long election night, “the phones began ringing at the 16-lawyer West Palm Beach personal injury firm Lytal, Reiter, Clark, Fountain & Williams, which claims credit for 22 multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements. Local Democratic staffers had used the firm’s conference room to make get-out-the-vote calls on Election Day, and the phones were still there.” (Peter Aronson, “Lawyers take center stage”, National Law Journal, Nov. 20). “This is the O.J. trial of politics,” the Boston Globe quotes GOP lawyer Tom Rath as saying, while the Wall Street Journal reports that clients in high-profile cases turn to attorney David Boies “as much to signal a declaration of war as anything else.” (Both quoted in Deborah Asbrand, “David Boies Rides Again”, Industry Standard/Law.com, Nov. 17). It’s a class action suit with the presidency rather than the coffers of the tobacco or gun industries as the target, argues the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial side (“Al Gore’s Class-Action”, Nov. 17). When Gore brings out the lawyers by the hundreds to help him, he’s bringing out his base (Rich Lowry, “Lawyers: The Gore Hard Core”, New York Post/National Review Online, Nov. 20).
November 21 — Burglar sues for compensation. In Australia, “[a] man who broke into a house and attacked the home owner when he was discovered has launched a civil action against his victim for compensation.” Shane Colburn says he is still suffering “physically and emotionally” from the aftermath of the 1997 incident, in which he scuffled with Peter Vucetic and Giavanna Grah and was attacked by the couple’s dogs. (“The thief who sued his victim”, Daily Telegraph (NSW, Australia), Nov. 17).
November 21 —Behind “Boston Public”. “[David E.] Kelley, an ex-lawyer [and creator of hit TV show Ally McBeal and the new Boston Public], has made this subject [overregulation] the obsession of every TV show he has written. Whenever teachers or administrators try to help or discipline students, they immediately butt up against their or their bosses’ anxiety about litigation. The worst, in Kelley’s book, are sexual harassment laws, which he started railing about in Ally McBeal long before Monica Lewinsky got down on her knees. But there are also digs at anti-discrimination laws and an episode about a degrading school board regulation that requires all teachers to submit to thumb printing since they work with children. . . . people who should be looked up to and supported are met instead by automatic suspicion.
“So what’s the parallel between Boston Public and the current crisis? That you can’t educate children, just as you can’t run a country, in an atmosphere of rancor and litigiousness, when the people who are supposed to be in charge are dismissed in a knee-jerk fashion as corrupt and illegitimate by the people they’re supposed to be governing.” (Judith Shulevitz, “Culturebox: The Ungovernable Boston Public”, Slate, Nov. 10; “Public-School Teachers, Those Ink-Stained Wretches”, Nov. 14 (more on teacher fingerprinting)).
November 21 — Reckless skier convicted. Nathan Hall has been convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the case arising from his fatal collision with another skier three years ago on the slopes at Vail, Colo. (see Sept. 25-26) (Steve Lipsher, “Skier verdict closes chapter”, Denver Post, Nov. 18; “Ski Racer Convicted in Homicide”, AP/FindLaw, Nov. 17).