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Posted January 31:

At the outset, my congratulations on a great page, great site, and great service to both those of us who are in the profession, and those who are not.  Your site is my home page. 

Now, alas, I must accompany my thanks and praise, with a request, with an edge.  I note your entry, albeit via reportage, into the "Holocaust sweepstakes" (Jan. 16).  I use the term, as an Israeli lawyer, with full caution.  While I am fully aware of the greed and conniving which sometime characterize my fellow attorneys, particularly plaintiff attorneys, justly or unjustly, this subject matter is different.  You are not addressing hypocrisy in tobacco suits, or phony hot water claims, or liberally slanted attacks on public officials.  You are addressing an issue that is far greater and more profound than the sum of its remaining parts.  We are dealing with the detritus of a monstrous crime against many people, particularly Jewish people.  The crime is done, the victims long drifted away as vapors in the skies of Europe.  What happens now is the sweepings, for good and for bad.  And the pathetic attempts to rebalance the scales, even seek, dare we say the word, justice of some kind for the victims. 

I urge you to be cautious in the extreme in your approach to this matter.  Again, this is not a junkie suing his dealer, a craven state official looking for a free publicity ride.  The excesses of the people of the Netherlands are more generally overlooked than scrutinized in Holocaust popular histories.  Only now are we learning of the people turned away from Switzerland, and the profits made by its banks during that tragedy.  No doubt revisionism of the kind hinted at in your brief summary will come.  But perhaps it is still a little too soon to be attacking those seeking balance, the egregiously greedy aside.  -- Jonathan D. Friedland

[The high importance of the subject matter of this litigation, the departure from centuries of legal practice involved in the effort to use the courts of a third country (the U. S.) to address offenses committed by and against foreign nationals, and the constitutional standing of the principle that treaties for the settlement of postwar affairs once ratified by the United States must bind the courts as well as other branches of government, all suggest that reparations litigation should come under more, not less, careful scrutiny than the mundane or trivial legal cases that often cross our desk.  It is quite certain that the precedents forged in these cases will be invoked by litigants seeking to bring other disputes arising outside the U.S. to our courts -- indeed, it is already happening. We again recommend Gabriel Schoenfeld's article in Commentary, and the rejoinders it drew from readers, as a starting point for those who wish to disentangle the good from the bad in the reparations actions. -- editor] 

A brief update for your readers on the case of the British Medical Journal and Northeastern University professor Richard Daynard.  As you reported more than half a year ago (April 21) the BMJ published an article by Daynard promoting tobacco litigation in which it listed him as having no competing interests, even though he had recently asserted a claim to millions of dollars in contingent fees from the state tobacco suits.  I am still in correspondence with BMJ editor Richard Smith and have, at his request, repeatedly sent him documentation indicating that Daynard failed to comply with BMJ's standards for disclosure of competing interests.  Dr. Smith says he is now actively pursuing the issue; but since roughly a year has now elapsed since the publication of the article in question, it cannot be said that the journal's editors are in any undue rush to enforce their own announced conflicts standards.  -- Martha Perske, Darien, Ct.

I was reading this month's Reader's Digest, which mentioned your site as the source for an item about the man in Delaware who admitted making false statements to a grand jury, then sued his country club for expelling him as a result (June 16).  I wound up surfing the site for hours, and will continue to do so.  It is absolutely wonderful: very informative, non-biased, responsible. 

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and I would like to briefly explain why.  In 1994, on Thanksgiving Day, an ice storm hit the Dallas area without a lot of warning.  I was in my Jeep Cherokee with my wife and daughter, on the way to my parents house.  The streets were much slicker than I thought, and I lost control of my vehicle.  My attempts at recovery were fruitless and I ended up hitting the soft ground of the median at a bad angle, causing my Jeep to roll over.  My corner of the roof caved in and struck the top of my head, fracturing two vertebrae in my neck.  We were all wearing seatbelts and thankfully my wife and daughter were not harmed, except for a couple of bruises.  I was banged up badly, however, and spent 2 weeks in the hospital. My right arm was paralyzed, but the doctors told me that it was only nerve damage and would eventually heal.  After months of physical therapy, I recovered 100%. 

While I was in the hospital, I was visited or phoned by countless law firms.  They wanted to sue Jeep, the Texas Highway Department, the Texas Department of Transportation, the City Of Dallas, and the dealership that sold me the vehicle.  I pointed out to all of them that it was a one-car accident, it was due to icy road conditions and my failure to recognize the danger, and that my wife and daughter escaped with barely a scratch.  Most of them didn't even attempt to appear ethical or scrupulous.  They basically said "We'll sue everybody and see who will pay us to go away."   I told them all that I had no intention of suing anybody for an accident that was my fault.  Some let the issue drop at that, some pressed on further but eventually gave up, and some even became irate and called me names. 

I was very hurt, angry, and disgusted by all of this.  My daughter, who was 7 years old at the time, seemed to be angry at me because she thought I was turning down free money.  I explained things to my daughter, and anyone else who would listen.  I have become a very outspoken advocate for adopting a "Loser Pays" system in this country, even though the only forums readily available to me are the chat rooms and bulletin boards on the web.  -- Ronnie Applewhite 

Posted January 16:

You wrote (Jan. 10): "Didn't we learn from the Roman Empire about the dangers of contingency-fee tax collection, otherwise known as tax farming?" 

It went on a lot longer than Rome. While Britain had bureaucratized its tax collection by the beginning of the 18th century and used its certain revenues to fund a modern national debt, France continued to use tax farmers to collect most taxes and did not have a real national debt--the government borrowed short-term from bankers. It is estimated that less than half the money collected from French citizens ended up in the French treasury. This produced both a chronically overtaxed citizenry and a chronically broke government, not a good combination if domestic tranquility is counted as a virtue.  This goes a very long way to explaining the unpleasantness that began in July, 1789. 

But the tax farmers did not work quite on a contingency-fee basis. Rather they paid X for the right to farm a given area. Anything over X that they gained was profit. You will not be surprised to learn that many of the tax farmers became intimately acquainted, if only briefly, with M. Guillotin's bright idea.   -- John Steele Gordon, New York 

I love your site, and advise many of my friends to go here.  I have a few more examples of how litigation (the abuse of) can lead to the inability to be humane and/or "neighborly". 

I work at a local hospital in the housekeeping department.  Because it is situated so close to Mexico, we do get quite a few Hispanics in the ER.  I was 
speaking to one of the technicians in x-ray (who has legal experience as a lawyer, actually), and he was speaking about how he didn't want to learn Spanish (for translation purposes) because he feared lawsuits in case anything went wrong. 

During the same conversation, we were discussing the fact that our hospital will not "fluoro" (scan with 
x-rays) candy that children bring us (to detect needles or metal objects), mainly because if there was poison (or some other non-traceable element the x-rays can't detect), we could also get sued. 

And the final insult: I was outside when a patient came out to smoke.  Now, I'm a nice guy, and care about my fellow human beings.  But I could only nod my head and say nothing of an inquiring nature when the patient started to explain the reason for being there, because I can get fired for being "overly inquisitive into a patient's privacy". 

It's a sad situation, but hopefully public recognition of the problem will end it -- Samuel Howard, Texas 

The real estate Conveyancing Association (from which I resigned in protest) in Massachusetts recently brought a case against non-attorney title companies for unauthorized practice of law. 

I have been an attorney and mortgage broker in Massachusetts for 25 years and am appalled that my brother lawyers actually seem to belief that they bring some great expertise to otherwise pedantic transactions.  The only consolation is that legal fees have dropped greatly in recent years, if only because of a massive influx of new lawyers. 

The case can in fact be made that small lawyers with a nothing practice can do this work more economically than other organizations, but that determination should be made by the marketplace, not by lawyers and judges protecting lawyers. 

I have been practicing law for 25+ years only to conclude that our legal machinery pretty much deserves the Dickensian criticisms.  In fact, I suspect that the Victorian legal system was better suited to its times than ours is to ours. 

My pet peeve is a complete lack of predictability in the system: one judge's perception of substantial justice in any given situation being a largely random matter. 

Slow and random are not good results.  Fast and random might be ok.  Slow and predictable might be ok.  Fast and predictable is probably hopeless. 

A large part of the problem is that lawyers are not too bright: for the most part, myself included, they went to law school as some sort of a default option and then were trained by marginally intelligent or at least impractical people.  They are then thrown into a haphazard politicized system a little like Alice going down the rat hole or whatever.  If they have good personalities and pay their dues they are then made judges, frequently after having been stultified in some bureaucratic meaningless job for a while. 

The sad thing is I have no sensible suggestions for improvement of the system.  -- Philip L. Goduti, Esq., Massachusetts 

About this comment (Nov. 22): "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 [eBay,] the online flea market."  Dextromethorphan Hydrobromide is commonly used in cough medicines (such as Robitussin) and is available at any drug store.  It is a fairly powerful psychedelic and has been used as such for at least ten years that I know of, perhaps longer.  -- David Steele, Chantilly, Va. 

It was an act of cowardice to run the story on the George Williams lawsuit (Jan. 15-16, 2000) without contacting me for clarification.  To further fill you in, the gambling industry in Louisiana is noted for its corruption.  The issues brought up in that litigation led to the State investigating the manner in which betting parlors were handling out-of-state horse races.  It's been shown that on numerous occasions, errors were made, affecting thousands of bets and millions of dollars.  Whether the errors were intentional or not does not affect their existence.  It's about time you get off your high-horse, and face facts.  The only way to affect change in this country, owned by big business and insurance lobbyists, is to do so in the courts. -- C.J. Orgeron, Kenner, La.

[We wish attorney Orgeron in his letter had taken the time to answer the question we posed in the earlier report, about why he charged theft and fraud if he wasn't trying to claim that the errors were intentional. -- editor] 

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