chronicling the high cost of our legal system

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Posted Oct. 23: 

According to a National Law Journal report you quote in your Oct. 3 item, a prominent Chicago personal injury lawyer concerned about the unpopularity of the legal profession "personally financed a $250,000 national telephone survey for the ABA of 750 households."

Well, that is typical of law firms: $250,000 to ask questions of 750 persons by telephone. That is $333.33 per surveyed person. Most telephone surveys require less than 5 minutes. If it took 25 phone calls (at 1 minute each) to contact one household, then the hourly rate was $666.66.  I would happily perform and statistically analyze a 750 household survey for only $100,000, saving them $150,000 while earning me $267 per hour (far more than I make as a pathologist!).-- Gregory Tetrault, Chesapeake, Va.

About the way other countries handle litigation: In 1988 cut-rate Irish airline Ryanair promised its millionth customer unlimited free flights for life. (Ryanair is now up to a million customers a month.) Later they reneged on this promise, and the customer in question sued. She was just awarded £43,098 by an Irish court, according to this Ananova story.

The remarkable thing about this is that the damages are in proportion to the harm. An American litigant would have asked for, and possibly received, millions of dollars. But with £43,000 you can buy as many tickets as you can reasonably expect to use in a lifetime.  -- James Fulford (columnist, VDARE.com)

Julie Hilden's defense of law firm Vinson & Elkins in the Enron affair (July 19-21) rests on two points.  Both fail.

First, she claims that, unlike Andersen, "It was to Enron, its shareholders, and the boundary constraints of the law, not the welfare of the public or abstract concepts of justice, that V & E owed its loyalties."  Was that duty to ALL shareholders or just the insiders? Watkins' memo warned that the stock prices would implode under a wave of accounting scandals.  V & E's anemic investigation gave insiders time to sell their stock while the non-insider stockholders were left holding the bag.

Second, she claims that "It's the job of the lawyers, inevitably, to torture those hair-thin distinctions to death."  Let me get this straight: A client who acts in reliance on a lawyer's advice will still face civil and criminal penalties even though the lawyer said the action in question was legal.  An accounting firm will face civil and criminal penalties even though the lawyer said its action was legal.  But the lawyers, whose job is to know the law better then the clients or accountants, get off scot free!  Why?  So they can give dubious legal advice to other clients?  Why should legal malpractice be held to a different standard than medical malpractice? -- Garnet Harris

Regarding suits blaming food purveyors for obesity (Jul. 26-28), my question is: what's the legal threshold for a food to be responsible for causing obesity? 20 percent fat? 30 percent fat? High levels of sodium? Avocados have lots of fat in them. Anchovies have lots of salt. Should their consumption be legally regulated? If beef and fried foods are legally liable, soon everything else will be on (or off) the table. Won't it?  -- Josh Greenman

According to your Sept. 12 item, director Tom Grey of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, "who has been beating the drums for years in hopes of making the wagering business the next tobacco, hopes governors and attorneys general will pile on in support of the latest lawsuit by a compulsive bettor claiming his losses were the casino's fault for luring him in".  Given how dependant many state governments have become on gambling revenues (it's Connecticut's largest source of revenue -- which might get Mr. Blumenthal to shut up), and the fact that most states now run their own numbers rackets -- oops, I mean lotteries -- I wonder how enthusiastically this crusade will be taken up on assorted Capitol Hills.  -- John Steele Gordon, North Salem, N.Y.

Well, we are nearing the end of George W. Bush's first congressional session, with essentially nothing done on one of his campaign pledges.....tort reform. Do you honestly believe he is going to get to this in 2003-2004? -- David Borghi, Rockford, Ill.

Might depend on whether the midterm elections bring in a Congress, and specifically a Senate, more sympathetic to that goal -- ed.

Your Aug. 23-25 article on the Houellebecq case in France recalls a case that has been in the news in Australia over the last couple of months, in which a man has been ordered by the Federal Court to remove material from his website (and all future websites) because it "incites racial hatred". Granted, the man is a loony -- he denies that the holocaust happened -- but freedom of speech means freedom to say loony things too. Here's an online newspaper article about the case. -- Mark Ellevsen, Brisbane, Australia

Regarding the Western wildfires (Jul. 1-2, Jul. 12-14): Mature, never-logged forests rarely, if ever, burn in raging wildfires like those out west this summer. There simply isn't much easily combustible fuel buildup in old growth forests. The cause of the raging wildfires is not anti-logging lawsuits but man's interference in the natural cycle of things. The clearing of large tracts of forest, our continual efforts to suppress even the smallest of naturally occuring fires (mostly in an effort to save stands of timber for logging) and logging efforts, especially clearcutting, all contribute to the rapid growth and buildup of the type of fuel that ignites and burns quickly. It's ironic that the Republican method of "saving" a forest is to cut it down. -- Joseph Haussman, Daytona Beach, Fla.

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