July 9-19 — Overlawyered.com takes a summer break. We’ll be taking off the next week and a half or two weeks and may update the site sporadically, or more likely not at all; the same goes for reading email. We reserve the right to come back in if we get even more upset than usual about something. Looking for reading material in the mean time? This makes the perfect chance to catch up on our voluminous archives, dating back to July 1999. Most of this older material is (in our opinion) pretty much as pertinent as the newest entries, since so little ever really seems to change in the beats we write about. (Jump in: 7/99, 10/99, 1/00, 4/00, 7/00, 10/00, 1/01, 4/01, 7/01)
July 7-8 — Update: Alabama high court reverses conviction in campaign-tactics case. In an 8-1 decision, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned the misdemeanor convictions for criminal defamation and witness tampering of Jasper attorney Garve Ivey and ordered him acquitted. The case arose (see Aug. 26, 1999; Sept. 1, 1999; Aug. 31, 2000) after an ex-prostitute leveled lurid sex charges against Lieutenant Governor Steve Windom. “The Supreme Court said the convictions can’t stand because Alabama’s criminal defamation law is unconstitutionally worded and because the witness tampering charge was brought in the wrong county,” reports AP. “‘Because of this disposition, this opinion cannot and should not be viewed as vindication of Ivey’s version of the evidence,’ Justice Champ Lyons wrote in the majority decision. …Ivey’s attorney, Barry Ragsdale, said the decision shows the Republican- dominated court can rise above politics to rule in favor of someone who has been a big supporter of Democrats.” Civil suits by Ivey and Windom against each other remain pending. (Phillip Rawls, “Supreme Court reverses attorney’s conviction in 1998 lt. gov. race”, AP/AlabamaLive, July 6).
July 6-8 — The rest of Justice O’Connor’s speech. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s speech earlier this week to a group of Minnesota women lawyers got front-page publicity because of its reflections on the shortcomings in the administration of the death penalty. That was not the only topic of her remarks, however. “O’Connor also said she is bothered by contingency fees that allow for big payoffs for victorious lawyers, especially in class-action lawsuits. ‘Such arrangements have made more overnight millionaires than almost any other businesses and the perverse incentives and the untoward consequences they are creating within our profession are many,” O’Connor said, adding that lawyers become ‘business partners of plaintiffs in seeking large-dollar recoveries rather than act as objective servants of the law.’ O’Connor also said she is worried that zero tolerance laws were too willing to sacrifice common sense for the politics of public safety.” (“O’Connor, in Speech, Blasts Death Penalty, Lawyer Fees and Zero Tolerance”, AP/ FoxNews.com, July 3).
July 6-8 — Batch of reader letters. Another large sack of correspondence in which readers send us moral support in the “Love Your Neighbor” affair; propose what to do with the trial lawyers who held secret what they knew about Firestone hazards while motorists perished; ask why Florida is investing in those demon tobacco companies; explain why the “tipsy topless dancer” injury case wasn’t one for the workers’ compensation system; criticize local TV’s coverage of the Manhattan drugstore handicapped access suit; and discuss the bagpiper “zero tolerance” case, Ohio auto insurance, and loser-pays. Two readers take us to task for our qualms about the negligent-homicide prosecution of the Tennessee mom who let her ill-fated two-year-old sit in her lap during a car ride; and a “proud lawyer” writes in to say “I think your website sucks”, and the rest of his letter doesn’t get any more complimentary from there.
July 6-8 — Research for lawyers, courtesy of their targets. A rash of age-discrimination suits is expected to follow recent business layoffs, especially given the impact of a federal law called the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 which “requires companies to provide workers with age-specific data about who is targeted and who remains on the job after layoffs or early-retirement buyouts.” Put differently, the law requires employers to compile and hand over statistical ammunition so as to make life easier for lawyers who want to take them to court. It even requires them to inform workers of the exact, not just approximate, age of their departing colleagues — doesn’t that count as some sort of privacy violation? (Adam Geller, “A gray area”, AP/Austin American-Statesman, July 5). And the Sacramento Bee provides more details on that California legislation, authored by former state senator Tom Hayden, which furthers the cause of reparations litigation by “requir[ing] insurance companies doing business in the state during the 1800s to hand over archival records of insurance policies issued on the lives of slaves” and also directs the taxpayer-backed University of California to conduct research linking the modern California economy to the efforts of slaves. (“Slavery reparation movement advances with state legislation”, Fahizah Alim, Sacramento Bee, June 30). Gee, who do you think lobbies for laws like these?
July 6-8 — Estate-law temptations. According to Dominic Campisi, a San Francisco litigator who heads a committee on estate malpractice for the American Bar Association, ‘there are lots of attorneys that steal from estates.’ … Bad estate lawyers can easily skate free because their clients aren’t around to oversee them.” And do be extra careful around lawyers who are willing to be named beneficiaries in their clients’ wills. (Brigid McMenamin, “Lawyer Take All”, Forbes, May 28)(reg).
July 5 — Welcome Slashdot readers. Our coverage of Barney’s blustering lawyers is here. Also check out Declan McCullagh’s article on Wired News for more details (“Lawyers: Keep Barney Pure”, July 4). And another Slashdot poster points out that satire site Cybercheeze, the target of Barney’s lawyers, has its own permissions page which purports to ban linking to its site without using its logo — whoops, looks like we’ve just violated that policy. Or have we?
July 5 — Disparaging stadium nickname leads to suit. “Invesco Funds Group, which bought the naming rights to the new Denver Broncos stadium, announced Sunday that it plans to sue The Denver Post and sports columnist Woody Paige over Paige’s column in Sunday’s newspaper. Paige wrote that an unidentified Invesco executive told him some people in the company call Invesco Field at Mile High ‘The Diaphragm’ because they say it resembles the birth-control device.” The company says none of its execs would talk that way, even in private. Conclusion: it’s been defamed. (“Invesco to sue over column”, Denver Post, July 2).
July 5 — Harvard Law’s new Bob Barker program in animal rights. In recognition of a $500,000 gift, Harvard Law School has established the Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights — the esteemed Mr. Barker, of course, being the longtime host of the TV game show “The Price Is Right” and a prominent supporter of the animal rights movement. “The Fund will support teaching and research at the Law School in the emerging field of animal rights law. The income generated by the gift will fund periodic courses and seminars at the Law School on animal rights taught by visiting scholars with a wide range of views and perspectives.” (HLS press release, June 13). Despite the nod toward “a wide range of views and perspectives”, we wonder whether Harvard would really have welcomed a mirror-image endowed fund on the study of animal law named after, say, Fred the Furrier. And if not, can we doubt that its imprimatur is effectively going to one side of this debate? Bonus: polymathic judge Richard Posner engages Princeton’s Peter Singer in a recent Slate online dialogue on critters’ entitlements (June 11: parts –1-, –2-, –3-, –4-) (via Arts & Letters Daily).
July 5 — “Scruggs interested in buying Saints”. “A multimillionaire trial lawyer says he would buy the New Orleans Saints and move them to Mississippi if it becomes an option. Richard Scruggs, a Mississippi plaintiffs lawyer who made several hundred million dollars from tobacco settlements, said he is interested in buying the team and moving it to Mississippi.” That money must just be burnin’ a hole in his pocket — or is it Angelos envy? And one of the rival groups of investors interested in the team is headed by another plaintiff’s lawyer, Walter Leger Jr. (AP/Jackson Clarion Ledger, June 29).
July 5 — Connecticut to “mainstream” retarded kids. In a recent disabled-rights court settlement, the state of Connecticut has agreed to educate many more retarded students in regular classes alongside other kids. There are good reasons to fear that such placements will often lead to serious disruption of the class for other students and the teacher — and also a slower learning pace for many retarded kids themselves than if they were in a class tailored to their needs. But given the binding nature of a court order, schools will probably find it hard to undo placements on a case-by-case basis when they don’t work out (“State agrees to mainstream more disabled kids”, AP/Christian Science Monitor, June 19). This site’s editor was on the Fox News Channel last Thursday predicting that (alas) lawyers in the rest of the country will soon be trying to bring the new Connecticut system to their states (see Heather Nauert, “Connecticut Agrees to Teach Some Mentally Retarded Children in Regular Classes,” FoxNews.com, July 6).
July 3-4 — “Reflections of a Survivor of State Judicial Election Warfare”. In this speech to the Manhattan Institute, Justice Robert Young of the Michigan Supreme Court, who with two colleagues survived vicious attacks to retain his seat in last fall’s elections, argues that the mounting acrimony and expense of state judicial campaigns arises from a philosophical clash between activist and traditionalist views of the judicial role, made worse by interest-group warfare, with trial lawyers intent on keeping state judiciaries in the hands of their friends (Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Report #2, June: html, PDF formats)
July 3-4 — “Lawyer says Yellow Book ad made him look bad, sues for damages”. Attorney Harvey W. Daniels of Greensburg, Pa. has sued the publishers of the Westmoreland County Yellow Book “for $500,000 in punitive damages and an unspecified amount in compensatory damages. … Daniels alleges the advertisement in the 2000-01 Yellow Book failed to mention that he is a personal-injury lawyer. He also claims that a photo with the previous year’s ad was ‘so grotesque that the plaintiff looked like an albino and discouraged any client from contacting’ him.” (AP/Boston Globe, June 29) (sorry, no illustration).
July 3-4 — “You get a coupon, he gets a fortune”. Vince Carroll of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News on the Blockbuster Video class action settlement (June 13).
July 3-4 — “Court Says Tipsy Topless Dancer Can Sue Club”. A Texas appeals court has ruled that dancer Sarah Salazar of San Antonio, who left work tipsy and had a car accident, can sue her employer, the now-defunct Giorgio’s Men’s Club, for encouraging her to drink with customers “so they would buy more drinks at inflated prices.” If she was employed by the club, shouldn’t this be a workers’ comp claim rather than a lawsuit? Or are we missing something? (Reuters, June 28) (& letter to the editor, July 6).
July 3-4 — Welcome Online Tonight listeners. Our editor was a guest Friday night on the radio show hosted by David Lawrence. Also: Virginia Postrel’s “The Scene“, congratulating us on our second birthday; Slithy Tove’s Live Journal (scroll to May 23); GrassRoots GunRights South Carolina; Infodrome.nl (in Dutch); San Francisco law firm Cox, Wootton, Griffin & Hansen; Declan McCullagh’s politechbot, June 26.
July 2 — Two views of Microsoft ruling. Richard Epstein finds the court of appeals’ unanimous ruling to be reasonably good news for Microsoft, and in line with the market’s expectations; but Jonathan Groner says the company is now in more trouble on the private suits and might still face a breakup down the road (Richard A. Epstein, “Phew!”, Wall Street Journal/ OpinionJournal.com, June 30; Jonathan Groner, “Not Good News for Microsoft”, American Lawyer Media, June 29; U.S. v. Microsoft (PDF — courtesy Law.com)).
July 2 — Facial-jewelry discrimination charged. Phone company Ameritech has told three line workers that it will not let them go to work with eyebrow rods and other inserted facial-piercings jewelry, which it worries could obstruct their vision or conduct electricity in an accident. The three say they’re being discriminated against and have filed a grievance. However, the company may risk being sued if it does let them wear the metal items, given OSHA rules calling for technicians who work near power lines to forgo wearing anything that conducts electricity, even wedding rings (Jon Van, “Piercings pit workers against Ameritech”, Chicago Tribune, June 21).
July 2 — Bounties for ratting out taxpayers? For nearly 10 years private San Francisco attorneys Michael Mendelson and Wayne Lesser have been goading the city to pursue IBM over its alleged use of property transfers to underpay city real estate taxes. The city did investigate and negotiated a deal in which the giant computer maker agreed to fork over more tax money, but that deal has been rejected by the board of supervisors and the eventual outcome remains uncertain. In the mean time, Mendelson and Lesser say they want “attorneys’ fees of about $14 million — 25 percent of the $56 million in back property taxes, interest and penalties they say the city is owed” — for having pushed the issue onto city lawyers’ agenda. Deputy City Attorney Owen Clements says the city neither needed nor wanted their help and “says city officials were on top of the matter before the two attorneys started making noise.” He’s also “adamant that, whatever the outcome of the case, the two lawyers have no fee due them. ‘There’s no such thing as tax bounty money.'” (Dennis J. Opatrny, “Battle Over Big Blue”, The Recorder, June 5).
July 20-22 — Don’t rock the Coke machine. “A couple whose 19-year-old son was crushed to death by a Coke machine as he rocked it to extract a free can has filed a $1-million lawsuit in a Quebec court” against the soft-drink company, the vending machine’s makers and operators, and the university he was attending. “Kevin Mackle of Etobicoke, Ont., was discovered in December, 1998, pinned beneath a toppled machine in a residence stairwell at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que. A coroner’s investigation concluded that after a night drinking beer to celebrate the end of exams, Mr. Mackle was trying to shake a soft drink loose when the 420-kilogram machine tipped over. An autopsy found he died of asphyxiation and had a blood-alcohol level slightly above the legal limit for driving.” (Graeme Hamilton, “Family sues Coca-Cola over son’s death”, National Post, July 11).
July 20-22 — Rand study finds no boost in accident rates from no-fault. A new Rand Corporation study “refutes a common criticism of no-fault auto insurance — that it may increase the accident rate by reducing drivers’ incentives to drive carefully. An analysis of accident trends in the United States between 1967 and 1989 found no statistically significant relationship between states’ adoption of a no-fault system and the fatal accident rate, overall accident rates, and other measures of driver care.” (David S. Loughran, “The Effect of No-Fault Automobile Insurance on Driver Behavior and Automobile Accidents in the United States,” RAND Institute for Civil Justice, 2001 (summary) (full study)).
July 20-22 — ADA’s busiest complaint-filer. National Law Journal profiles Miami lawyer John D. Mallah, who with his partner since 1998 “have sued at least 740 businesses — car dealerships, fast food franchises, drug stores, run-down motels — claiming that they had failed to make their facilities accessible to the disabled, as required under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)” (see Jan. 26, Feb. 15b, March 7, May 18, 2000). Most of the suits were brought on behalf of a activist who directs a local disabled-rights group and who also happens to be Mallah’s uncle. “According to Mallah, most of his access cases yield $3,000 to $5,000 in [legal] fees,” which defendants pay him as a condition of settling cases. (Bob Van Voris, “South Florida’s ADA Industry”, July 9).
July 20-22 — “Man sues Rite Aid over stale jelly bean”. From Maine: “A Winslow man who said he broke his false teeth on a stale jelly bean is suing Rite Aid Corp. and a Maryland candymaker, seeking new dentures plus damages. Clayton Weeks, 62, has asked for a total of $9,000 to replace the dentures and for pain and suffering, said his lawyer, Gregory J. Domareki. … ‘He has lost 15 pounds … What is it worth not having your teeth for four months?’,” Domareki said of his client (AP/Boston Globe, July 13).
July 20-22 — Back from summer break. We figured our visitor traffic would plunge over the last week and a half since we’d warned that we wouldn’t be posting updates. To our surprise it dropped only modestly, clocking around 3,500 pages served per weekday, not so far below the 5,000 a day clip we’d been hitting before. Thanks for your support! (And maybe we can take more time off.)
July 31 — 1.5 million pages served on Overlawyered.com. Last month set a new visitor traffic record, and this month will set another one …. Thanks for your support!
July 31 — N.J.: 172 nabbed on fake car-crash charges. “Capping a 19-month investigation, prosecutors [July 19] announced the indictment of 172 people in New Jersey, including a medical doctor, a lawyer and two chiropractors, charging them with staging 19 automobile accidents and filing false medical claims totaling more than $5 million. …’Runners’ would recruit drivers and passengers, who would meet ahead of time, typically in West New York, N.J., to discuss details of the staged collisions, which were mostly minor,” according to first assistant Hudson County prosecutor Terrence Hull. “Participants were paid up to $2,500 and would be coached about the types of injuries to fake, Mr. Hull said.” (“False Claims From Fake Crashes Leads [sic] to Charges Against 172”, New York Times, July 20, not online). Meanwhile, a detailed Boston Globe front-page investigation finds that lawyers employing “runners” to bring in accident business are contributing to a sharp run-up in the cost of auto insurance fraud in Massachusetts; one of the state’s biggest personal injury law firms “is under investigation by federal authorities for participating in a criminal scheme that resulted in more than $50,000 worth of claims being filed from a staged accident.” (Stephen Kurkjian, “Injury claims flourish in loophole”, Boston Globe, July 16; “Study ID’s high injury claim areas”, July 19). “Massachusetts is not alone in experiencing a dramatic increase in payments for suspicious injuries from minor automobile accidents. Fed by runners who are arranging for faked accidents and phony personal injury claims, medical payments made by auto insurers jumped by more than 30 percent last year in New York, according to a study by the Insurance Information Institute, an industry research group, in March.” (more).
July 31 — Global warming suit? “States like Bangladesh that are the victims of climate change have a good case in law for suing polluters like the United States for billions of dollars, a law professor will tell a London conference today. With the US delaying action on climate change and President George Bush refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol, the case for court action is becoming overwhelming, according to Andrew Strauss, of the school of law at Widener University, Delaware.” (Paul Brown, “Rich nations ‘could be sued’ by climate victims”, The Guardian (U.K.), July 10) (& see Aug. 19, 1999).
July 31 — “The Lost Art of Drawing the Line”. “The air in America is so thick with legal risk that you can practically cut it and put in on a scale,” says Philip Howard, attorney at Covington & Burling and author of the new book The Lost Art of Drawing the Line, which was preceded by his bestselling The Death of Common Sense. Howard is working with the founders of the Concord Coalition to establish something to be called the Common Sense Coalition. “The trial lawyers have to be taken on,” he says. “Leadership is required by whoever can get public attention.” (Lucy Morgan, “Author sees good sense as cure for what ails us”, St. Petersburg Times, July 28; official book site; Diane Rehm show, June 5; William Galston, “The Art of Judgement” (review), Washington Monthly, July/August; Cass Sunstein, “The Stifled Society” (review), The New Republic, July 9; Pete DuPont, National Center for Policy Analysis, “Drawing the Line”, May 1).
July 30 — “Couple sues over flaming Pop-Tart”. In Washington Township, N.J., Brenda Hurff and her husband are “suing the Kellogg Co. for $100,000 in damages caused to their home when an unattended Pop-Tart allegedly burst into flames inside their toaster.” A spokesman for the Battle Creek, Mich., cereal maker counters: “Pop-Tarts are safe and do not cause fires.” (Reuters/CNN, July 28; Jake Wagman, “From toaster to lawsuit”, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 28).
July 30 — Mommy, can I grow up to be an informant? Controversy mounts over large payouts ($40 million in one case, $25 million in another) under the False Claims Act to “whistle-blowers” who rat out overbilling by government contractors in health care, defense and other areas. “‘I think it’s a ridiculous ripoff of the taxpayers’ money,’ said U.S. Representative John Duncan, a Texas Republican, who has proposed a $1 million cap on rewards. ‘I don’t mind some compensation for these people, but I do not think they should be allowed to make off like bandits.'” A lawyer who represented one of the informants in the $40 million case takes a different view: ”It’s almost got to be set up like the lottery or very few people in their right mind would do this.” An informant given only $12 million for his work on an overbilling case against Quorum Health Group has gone to court to demand more, calling the figure “insulting” (Alice Dembner, “Whistle-blower windfalls questioned”, Boston Globe, July 29). Last year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act’s informant (“relator”) provisions, but ruled that state governments cannot be named as defendants (Francis J. Serbaroli, “Supreme Court Clarifies, Broadens Antifraud Laws”, New York Law Journal, July 27, 2000, reprinted at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft site)(more on False Claims Act: Sept. 9, 1999; Jan. 18, 2000; April 30, 2001).
July 30 — N.J. court declares transsexuals protected class. Earlier this month an appeals court in the Garden State ruled that “gender dysphoria”, or dissatisfaction with the gender one has been assigned at birth, is protected as a handicap under the state’s disabled-rights law. In addition, it declared that by banning employers from discriminating on grounds of sex the law actually bans them from discriminating on the basis of “qualities society considers masculine or feminine”. The American Civil Liberties Union was overjoyed, but our editor, quoted by Fox News, was not. (Catherine Donaldson-Evans, “Transsexual Rights in Spotlight Following N.J. Court Ruling That Condition a Handicap”, Fox News, July 9; Mary P. Gallagher, “Transsexuals Held to be Protected Class Under New Jersey Law”, New Jersey Law Journal, July 11) (more transsexualism cases: March 23, 2001, May 31, 2000).
July 27-29 — Welcome New York Times readers. John Tierney’s column on overzealous prosecution quotes our editor and mentions this site. (“The Big City: Prosecutors Never Need to Apologize”, July 27)(reg).
July 27-29 — Report: “medical errors” studies overblown. “Alarming studies suggesting that medical errors kill close to 100,000 U.S. hospital patients each year probably overestimate the problem, with the real total perhaps 5,000 to 15,000, researchers say.” Readers of this space will not be surprised. The higher estimates have been much cited by Ralph Nader and others to promote medical malpractice litigation, but they rest on case-review studies whose format is problematic because reviewing doctors show little consensus as to which cases involve errors and which errors cause or hasten death, according to the new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In addition, “clinicians estimated that only 0.5 percent of patients who died would have lived three months or more in good cognitive health if care had been optimal.” (“Number of Medical-Error Deaths Overestimated, Researchers Say”, AP/ FoxNews.com, July 24; “Researchers Question Data on Fatal Medical Errors”, Reuters/ABC News, July 24; “Findings: Study Disputes Report on Fatal Medical Errors”, Washington Post, July 25; Rodney A. Hayward and Timothy P. Hofer, “Estimating Hospital Deaths Due to Medical Errors: Preventability Is in the Eye of the Reviewer,” JAMA, July 25; National Academies report on medical errors, 1999).
July 27-29 — Needed: assumption of risk. Community swimming holes are disappearing, and one reason is landowners’ fear of litigation, reports the New York Times. “In New York, landowners have become particularly wary of swimmers,” because state law pointedly omits swimming from a list of activities that they can permit to visitors without fear of liability. “Though recreation groups have lobbied to expand the law to include swimming, these efforts have been blocked by the state’s trial lawyers. ‘We have done everything we could to slip it in,’ said Neil F. Woodworth, deputy executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. (Winnie Hu, “Keep Out: The Water’s Fine, but Private”, New York Times, July 23 (reg)). First-time skydiver Paul Bloebaum is suing Archway Skydiving Center in Vandalia, Ill. over injuries incurred in his maiden jump; he “wants a judge to throw out the lengthy waiver he signed before he jumped and make Archway responsible for his injuries. Bloebaum wrote his initials beside all 25 paragraphs of the release.” (“Company Sued Over Skydiver’s Fall”, AP/Fox News, July 25). And Atlanta Braves outfielders, after catching third outs to end an inning, routinely throw the balls to fans in the stands, but now a woman is suing star centerfielder Andruw Jones saying she was hit in the face when he did that recently (Carroll Rogers, “Bullpen becoming a strength”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 22 (third item)). However, a Michigan appeals court “has overturned a million-dollar verdict against the Detroit Tigers for injuries suffered by a child hit by a baseball bat splinter.” (Alan Fisk, “$1 Million Ballpark Injury Award Strikes Out”, National Law Journal, July 27).
July 27-29 — Chandra, Monica, and sex-harass law. Why is the furtive liaison between the ardent young woman and the powerful older man still so common in Washington, D.C.? “Politicians are immune from the sexual harassment systems that protect young women in corporate workplaces and academia, where the presumption has become that the older male will say no or face brutal consequences. These kinds of advances would cost your political science professor his job. In an office, it would be sexual harassment. In D.C., it’s still 1951, and young girls are still curvy temptresses.” (Dahlia Lithwick, “G-Girl Confidential”, Slate, July 25).
July 27-29 — Feeling queasy? Litigation over E. coli food poisoning has proliferated rapidly, so much so that there’s now a law firm whose specialty consists of filing cases over the nasty bacterium. (“E. Coli’s Twisted Tale of Science in the Courtroom and Politics in the Lab”, Los Angeles Times, June 6, reprinted at STATS).
July 26 — Welcome CourtTV.com visitors. This week the cable network’s online “Caught in the Web” feature profiles “the hub of all things legally absurd on the Net”, from its origins on our editor’s hard drive as “an out-of-control file of favorite bookmarks” to our current popularity on who knows how many continents (key to the editorial mix: “frequent food pellets” so that you regular readers “keep on pressing the lever”). Seriously, this counts as the most comprehensive profile of the site that’s appeared anywhere, for which we’re grateful to CourtTV.com correspondent Adrien Seybert (the opening Shakespeare line didn’t actually come up in our talk, though) (“Chasing the Ambulance Chasers”, July 25). Also: we’re a web pick of the week for Australia’s FHM (“It’s a Guy Thing”); Herff.com (“Neat stuff on the Internet” — see “Shark Indigestion”); Follow Me Here weblog, early July (450k).
July 26 — Dispute over $118 pizza bill costs $18,000. Nebraska: “Lancaster District Court Clerk Kelly Guenzel is now pondering whether she should go to court to force the county to pay the $18,000-plus in legal fees she racked up defending herself against a charge she misused public funds in reimbursing herself for $118.76 worth of pizza.” (“Pizza bill just grows and grows” (editorial), Lincoln Journal-Star, undated (sent to us July 20))
July 26 — Latex liability, foreseeable or not. “Bucking a national trend in design defect cases, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a jury’s finding that a brand of latex gloves was defectively designed, even though no one, including the manufacturer, was aware of latex-related health problems until years after the brand was put on the market.” Rejecting the argument that the company should be liable only for foreseeable risks, the court ordered Smith & Nephew AHP Inc. to pay $1 million to Linda M. Green, who developed a latex allergy from the naturally occurring substances found in the gloves. (Gary Young, “Defective Latex Glove Costs $1 Million”, National Law Journal, July 23).
July 26 — “Criminals could sue their victims”. Dateline U.K.: “Criminals could find it easier to sue members of the public who injure them while defending their homes, under Law Commission reforms proposed yesterday. … The recommendations are open for consultation until the autumn when a final report is made to Parliament.” (Frances Gibb, The Times (London), June 29).
July 26 — Quiz: which are the made-up cases? Funny L.A. Times feature where you have to guess which outlandish news report isn’t true: “Hypersensitivity, political correctness and frivolous lawsuits are taking over the world. Increase your awareness with this handy quiz.” (Roy Rivenburg, “It’s Truly a Dangerous World Out There”, July 24) (via Kausfiles).
July 25 — By reader acclaim: “Parents file suit over son’s drug death”. “The parents of an 18-year-old University of Florida student who died after taking OxyContin last year have filed a lawsuit against the drug’s manufacturer and the pharmacy chain where one of Matthew Kaminer’s friends stole the painkiller.” Kaminer was found dead in a fraternity house bedroom after taking one of the pills, stolen by another student from an Eckerd drugstore. “The powerful painkiller was designed to combat chronic pain with a time-release formula,” but abusers chew the capsules in order to get “an immediate, heroin-like high.” The parents are blaming drugmaker Purdue Pharma as well as the Eckerd chain. (Erika Bolstad, Miami Herald, July 24) (via WSJ OpinionJournal.com “Best of the Web“).
July 25 — 220 percent rate of farmer participation. “In a 1999 major class-action settlement, the Clinton administration agreed to pay $50,000 to each black farmer who had suffered discrimination at the hands of the federal government. As of 2001, some 40,000 people have applied for their cash. The problem is, according to the Census Bureau, there are only 18,000 black farmers in the country.” (Steve Brown, “Settlement Is a Crass-Action, USDA Employees Say”, Fox News, July 14).
July 25 — “Trial lawyers derail Maryland small claims reform”. “In an unexpected setback to small claims reform, on May 17 Maryland Governor Parris Glendening vetoed HALT-supported legislation, despite its unanimous approval by both houses of the state legislature.” The legislation would have raised the jurisdiction of Maryland’s small claims court from $2,500 to $5,000, and eliminated formal pleadings in cases below $2,500, reducing the occasion for disputants to hire lawyers. “According to his message, Glendening acted in response to concerns that ‘prompted the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association to request a veto of this bill.’ … The Maryland Trial Lawyers Association organization was one of the largest institutional supporters of Glendening’s 1998 reelection campaign, donating $12,000 to him directly and spending about $110,000 on radio and television advertisements supporting him.” (Tom Gordon, HALT.org “Legal Reformer”, Spring) (more on small claims: Sept. 29, Oct. 3 and (letters) Oct. 5, 2000) (& see letter to the editor, Aug. 1).
July 25 — Yesterday’s visitors to this site came from domains including eop.gov, usdoj.gov, sec.gov, nrc.gov, treas.gov, ornl.gov; dowjones.com, trib.com, usnews.com, disney.com; boeing.com, gendyn.com, lucent.com, ibm.com, fujitsu.com, honeywell.com, att.com, philips.com, pg.com, ual.com, oracle.com, cat.com, sun.com, cisco.com, intel.com, pge.com, roche.com…
…columbia.edu, uiuc.edu, asu.edu, uncg.edu, american.edu, lu.se, uoregon.edu, ucsd.edu, stanford.edu, utoronto.ca, gatech.edu, rutgers.edu, auckland.ac.nz, wustl.edu, upenn.edu; state.mn.us, state.fl.us, state.oh.us, state.mo.us; omm.com, debevoise.com, kirkland.com, ffhsj.com, lockeliddell.com, corboydemetrio.com, atlahq.org (which has been poking around here a lot lately); army.mil, af.mil, navy.mil, nipr.mil; thehartford.com, prudential.com, statefarm.com, travelers.com, fanniemae.com, bear.com, schwab.com, jpmorgan.com, socgen.com, agedwards.com, norwest.com, tiaa-cref.org; cato.org, cir-usa.org; jcpenney.com, fedex.com, ups.com; bigpond.com, gc.ca, gov.au, and asce.org, among many, many others including countless local ISPs. Moral: your competitors read us regularly, so there’s no reason why you should feel guilty about doing so too.
July 24 — “The Louima millions”. “Last week, after the Giuliani administration and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association agreed to pay [Abner] Louima nearly $9 million to settle his police brutality lawsuit, Louima said he did not feel like a rich man. That’s because Louima cannot touch one dime until he settles a bitter quarrel with [his lawyers]”. The dispute pits the lesser-known attorneys who originally represented Louima against the high-profile trio of Johnnie Cochran, Barry Scheck, and Peter Neufeld (“Johnnie- come- latelies”) who took over afterward. Before getting to the juicy particulars, be sure to catch the opening quote, from an attorney named Harold J. Reynolds: “So ingrained and unexamined is the notion of the one-third contingency fee that it has taken on the character of a natural law. … if liability and recovery were certain, then there is no contingency that Louima’s lawyer is risking … [and the operation of the fee percentage] would have done nothing except guarantee to that lawyer a freight train of money that should have been paid to Abner Louima.” (Peter Noel, Village Voice, July 18-24). More on why contingency fees are so seldom discounted: Judyth Pendell (Manhattan Institute), “Price Colluder, Esq.”, Forbes, July 23, reprinted at MI site. Update: see Nov. 8-10, 2002.
July 24 — Junk fax litigation: blood in the water. We’ve covered the saga of junk fax litigation, in which federal law allows class action lawyers to demand $500-$1,500 per unsolicited fax sent, which means the sums at stake can quickly mount up to enormous levels (see Oct. 22, 1999; March 3, 2000; March 27, 2001). Now the New York Times weighs in to report a number of recent breakthroughs for the lawyers, including a recent $12 million judgment that forced Hooters of Augusta, Ga., a unit of the national restaurant chain, to declare bankruptcy; it had been an advertiser in six omnibus fax mailings sent to 1,321 customers. Some more new developments: “Last month, a South Carolina judge approved a settlement of another class-action suit in which a North Charleston Ramada Inn paid $450,000 for sending thousands of faxes advertising a New Year’s Eve celebration. Last week, a Texas judge authorized a class-action trial of claims on behalf of thousands of people who received fax advertisements from an apartment rental company.” (William Glaberson, New York Times, July 22 (reg)).
July 24 — “Melbourne man patents the wheel”. “A Melbourne man has patented the wheel. Freelance patent attorney John Keogh was issued with an Innovation Patent for a ‘circular transportation facilitation device’ within days of the new patent system being invoked in May. But he has no immediate plans to patent fire, crop rotation or other fundamental advances in civilisation. Mr Keogh said he patented the wheel to prove the innovation patent system was flawed because it did not need to be examined by the patent office, IP Australia.” (Nathan Cochrane, The Age (Melbourne), July 2).
July 23 — “2nd Circuit Upholds Sanctions Against Firms for Frivolous Securities Claims”. “The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld sanctions against two law firms for pursuing frivolous securities claims. New York’s Schoengold & Sporn and Philadelphia’s Berger & Montague were sanctioned a total of $84,153 based on the fact that under a settlement advocated by Schoengold & Sporn, the plaintiff class in the case would have received nothing, while the firm would have been paid $200,000.” Trial judge Shira Scheindlin had reduced the sanctions against Berger & Montague after concluding that it had acted to a significant extent at the direction of the other class-action firm. (Mark Hamblett, New York Law Journal, July 16).
July 23 — Stories that got away. News items from recent months that fell through our editorial cracks at the time, but better late than never:
* Sacramento Bee investigation of the state of the environmentalist movement includes a look at the extent to which some lawyers may be using endangered-species complaints as a way of generating legal fees for themselves (Tom Knudson, “Litigation central: A flood of costly lawsuits raises questions about motive”, April 24) (series). See also Michael Grunwald, “Endangered List Faces New Peril,” Washington Post, March 12; “Protect Animals, Not Lawyers” (editorial), Detroit News, May 7; “Congress Grapples With Endangered Species Law”, AP/Fox News, May 9. And the more recent controversy over agricultural water use in Klamath Falls, Ore., reminds us of the “enclosures” by which upper-class landowners tossed tenant farmers off the land in early industrial England: Michael Kelly, “Evicted by Environmentalists”, Washington Post, July 11 (& letter to the editor in response from Brock Evans, July 13).
* The still-in-progress controversy over whether the Digital Millennium Copyright Act really allows the recording industry to keep a Princeton professor from publishing a research paper on the subject of breaking digital music encryption (Declan McCullagh, “Watermark Crackers Back Away”, Wired News, April 26; Janelle Brown, “Is the RIAA running scared?”, Salon.com, April 26; Brenda Sandburg, “Recording Industry Sued in Battle Over Research”, The Recorder, June 7). See also Carl S. Kaplan, “CyberLaw Journal: Does an Anti-Piracy Plan Quash the First Amendment?”, New York Times, April 27; Brad King, “ISPs Face Down DMCA”, Wired News, Dec. 23, 2000).
* That odd case from Everett, Wash. where a federal judge “has thrown out the kidnapping and sexual assault convictions of a man who had argued he was not responsible for those crimes because another of his 24 separate personalities had committed it.” A Snohomish County judge declared the multiple personality defense inadmissible, but “U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman in Seattle ruled Friday that it was up to the trial court to clarify the question for jurors by establishing standards for assessing legal responsibility.” (“Judge Throws Out Conviction of Multi-Personality Defendant”, AP/Fox News, June 12).