The San Francisco Chronicle’s Debra Saunders is no admirer of California AG Lockyer’s new lawsuit (see Ted’s Aug. 29 post) charging that restaurants have broken the law by failing to post announcements that french fries and other common foods contain naturally occurring acrylamides (Aug. 30). More: Jonathan Wilson posts here and here.
Bill Lockyer has thrown the power of the state of California and its taxpayers behind the litigation lobby’s attempt to extract money from just about every food manufacturer over the alleged dangers of acrylamide. We’ve been covering these suits for years: see Apr. 6, 2004 and links therein. Of course, if every single food product and commercial building structure contains a Proposition 65 warning, the net effect is to make the real important warnings, like those on cigarette packages, less meaningful, rather than to warn people of the uncertain link between french fries and minimally elevated risks of cancer, a risk dwarfed in health effects by the difference between french fries with and without trans-fats. The press coverage universally makes no attempt to parse the studies on the subject. The fact that the press-hungry and politically ambitious Lockyer filed his suit relatively quietly on a Friday—and sued only national fast-food chains, without including two popular local chains that also serve french fries—for Saturday news coverage suggests that he’s doing this as a favor for some trial-lawyer buddies and is hoping to avoid public embarrassment. This is a good opportunity for the blogosphere to prove its stuff. And will all the Democrats who claim to be part of the “reality-based community” and correctly speak out against Republican junk science like “intelligent design” raise their voices when it’s a Democrat using junk science for corporation-bashing, or is science only to be used when it can embarrass Bush? We shall see. (Tim Reiterman, “Carcinogen Warning Sought for Fries, Chips”, LA Times, Aug. 27). Other Lockyer coverage.
There’ll always be a California, cont’d: “Buying cereal, olives, potatoes, bread, almonds — even prune juice — at the grocery store soon might come with a cancer warning from the state of California. State officials are considering a requirement that grocery stores, retailers and restaurants alert customers about acrylamide, a carcinogen created when starchy foods like potatoes and breads are baked, roasted, fried or toasted.” (Greg Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, May 25). For more about the naturally occurring compound and the litigation it has already provoked, see Dec. 27-29, 2002, Sept. 19, 2003 (final item), and Apr. 6, 2004. For more on Proposition 65, the bounty-hunting statute under which lawyers will inevitably file more suits against businesses that fail to post signs warning of acrylamide should the proposed regulation become effective, see Nov. 4-5, 2002 and these links.
Approximately forty percent of the food the world eats contains acrylamide, a chemical that is formed by cooking starches and that has uncertain carcinogenic effect. The LA Times reports on the pending lawsuit against fast food vendors in California under Proposition 65 (Sep. 19; Dec. 27, 2002), which requires labeling of all carcinogenic substances with warnings–never mind that if a warning is posted everywhere, it effectively renders all the warnings meaningless, as they essentially are in California, where the warning can already be found in nearly every parking garage. While Burger King and other large corporations are fighting against extending the labeling requirements to french fries, it’s hypothesized that smaller mom-and-pop shops will simply cave and post warnings rather than pay lawyers to defend the use of heat in preparing food. (Miguel Bustillo, “Are We Ready to Fret About Our Fries?”, LA Times, Apr. 6; Andrew Bridges, “Studies find no acrylamide, cancer link”, AP, Mar. 29; Center for Consumer Freedom, “Wayward Warnings”, Aug. 5).
At the new multi-author blog Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok writes that he’s angry: “The lawyers will get $19 million, the plaintiffs have no damages and I have been involved in an abuse of justice. I received notice yesterday that I was a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Bridgestone/Firestone that is about to be settled. I was never injured by Firestone but that’s ok because injured people have their own lawsuit the one I am involved in is for people who were not injured. The lawsuit reads ‘Plaintiff Does Not Seek To Represent And This Litigation Does Not Involve Any Person Who Alleges That He or She Suffered Any Personal Injury or Property Damage Because Of A Failure Of One Of The Tires’ (capitalization in original.) Bear in mind that Firestone has already replaced all four of my tires with a competitor’s brand for free and similarly for many of the other plaintiffs.” (Sept. 16) Co-blogger Tyler Cowen at the same site isn’t any happier to discover that he is a member of the class in a suit against Western Union over its wire-funds-abroad service charging that, according to the legalese, “…the Defendants [made] misrepresentations about or otherwise failing to disclose to customers the fact that they received a more favorable exchange rate for converting U.S. dollars to foreign currency and foreign currency to U.S. dollars than they provided to their customers.” “Imagine that” — writes Cowen — “a middleman buying and selling at different prices!” (Sept. 17). (More: see KrazyKiwi, Oct. 8).
Meanwhile, a Wisconsin man has filed an intended class action lawsuit against jam maker J.M. Smucker after the Washington-based anti-business group Center for Science in the Public Interest published a report claiming that Smucker’s “Simply 100 Percent Fruit” products were falsely labeled because only a minority of the actual contents of a jar of strawberry or blueberry “Spreadable Fruit” consisted of those berries, the remainder consisting (as Smucker’s labeling makes clear) of syrups, concentrates and extracts derived from other fruits such as apple, grape, lemon and pineapple. (“Smucker’s Spreads Not All Fruit, Lawsuit Says”, AP/FoxNews, Sept. 5 — if you’re looking for a deceptive claim, how about the one conveyed by that headline?). The food-industry-defense Center for Consumer Freedom levels an interesting accusation against CSPI, namely that bounty-hunting lawyers suing under California’s Proposition 65 law seemed to have mysterious psychic powers to divine in advance exactly what was going to be in a CSPI report on supposed killer french fries — either that, or CSPI shared the information with them before it went public with its allegations. See “We, the jury, find the defendant ‘starchy'”, CCF, Jul. 17 (third from last paragraph); “CSPI: 100 Percent Litigious”, CCF, Sept. 8; “Latest Acrylamide Panic Based on Fudged Numbers” (press release), CCF, Jul. 10. For more on the French fry suit, see Dec. 27-29, 2002.
Wildlife management, species protection, 2003: “U.K. roundup” (licensing of exotic pet fish), Jun. 12-15. 2001: “False trail of missing lynx“, Dec. 18; “Pricing out the human species“, Aug. 22-23; “Stories that got away“, Jul. 23; “Bush’s environmental centrism“, Apr. 24. 2000: “Endangered list“, Dec. 4; “Snakes’ rights not always paramount” (man killed snake in self-defense), Aug. 18-20; “‘Imperfect laws add to danger of perfect storms’“, Aug. 10. 1999: “Property owners obliged to host rattlesnakes“, Oct. 12; “Knock him over with a feather” (migratory bird contraband laws), Sept. 11; “Mow’ better ADA claims” (claim of “exotic prairie plants” by resident who didn’t want to mow her lawn), Jul. 26.
“Bounty-hunting in New Jersey“, Jun. 10-11, 2003.
“‘State is suing ex-dry cleaners’” (Calif., Superfund), May 27, 2003.
“Suing ’til the cows come home“, May 20, 2003.
“U.K. roundup” (global warming suits), Jun. 12-15, 2003; “Tort suits over global warming“, Feb. 6-9, 2003; “Global warming suit?“, Jul. 31, 2001 (& Aug. 10-12); “Plus extra damages for having argued with us“, Aug. 19, 1999.
“California’s hazardous holiday” (fireplaces), Dec. 27-29, 2002; “Chestnuts-roasting menace averted“, Dec. 24-27, 2001; “Put out that match” (agricultural burning, residential wood burning), Feb. 28-Mar. 1, 2001.
“Right to know” laws, 2002: “California’s hazardous holiday” (acrylamide), Dec. 27-29; “‘Lawyers who sue to settle’“, Nov. 4-5; “Chocolate, gas-pump fumes, playground sand and so much more“, Oct. 15; “‘Greedy or Just Green’“, Mar. 13-14. 2001: “There’ll always be a California” (chocolate and Prop 65), Dec. 4; Letter to the editor (lutefisk exempted from toxic-substance status in Wisconsin), Nov. 29; “Be somewhat less afraid” (nuclear plant terrorism), Nov. 30-Dec. 2; “‘U.S. Debates Info on Chemical Hazards’” (“right to know” and terrorism), Nov. 12; “Chemical-plant vulnerabilities: read all about them“, Oct. 1. 1999: “Lockyer vs. keys” (California attorney general declares brass a toxic hazard), Nov. 2.
“How much did you say that Indian legend was worth?“, Sept. 25-26, 2002; “Final innings for Kennewick Man“, Sept. 27-28, 2000; “Free Kennewick Man!” (pre-Columbian remains), Oct. 11, 1999.
Low exposures, 2002: “A breast-cancer myth“, Sept. 3-4; “‘Unharmed woman awarded $104,000’” (Canada), May 6. 2001: “There’ll always be a California” (chocolate and Prop 65), Dec. 4; “‘Incense link to cancer’“, Aug. 27-28; “‘Candles might be polluting your home, EPA says’“, Jun. 19; “While you were out: the carbonless paper crusade“, Apr. 25 (& letter to the editor, May 18); “Hunter sues store over camouflage mask“, Jan. 12-14. 2000: “‘Airbag chemical on trial’“, Aug. 14; “Multiple chemical sensitivity from school construction“, Jul. 3-4; “Feelings of nausea? Get in line” (Baton Rouge chemical spill), Jan. 26-27. 1999: “Lockyer vs. keys” (California attorney general declares brass a toxic hazard), Nov. 2.
Zoning, land use, 2002: “How much did you say that Indian legend was worth?“, Sept. 25-26; “‘Preserving’ History at Bayonet Point“, Feb. 15-17; “Planners tie up land for twenty years“, Jan. 18-20. 2001: “Columnist-fest” (John Tierney on NYC battle over IKEA site), May 25-27; “Lessons of shrub-case jailing“, May 17; “Perils of regulatory discretion“, Jan. 24-25. 2000: “Cornfield maze as zoning violation“, Oct. 30. 1999: “Great moments in zoning law” (rescued pets from storm, charged with running unlawful animal shelter), Nov. 22.
“Going to blazes” (logging and Western fires), Jul. 1-2, 2002; “Credibility up in smoke?” (same), Jul. 12-14, 2002; letter to the editor, Oct. 23.
Industrial farming: “‘Tampa Judge Tosses Out Class-Action Suit Against Hog Company’“, Jul. 3-9, 2002; “RFK Jr. blasted for hog farm remarks“, Apr. 15, 2002 (& Apr. 17, Apr. 19-21, letter to the editor and editor’s response, Apr. 19); “Chickens are next“, Feb. 6-7, 2002; “Judge throws out hog farm suit“, May 7, 2001; “Trial lawyers vs. hog farms“, Dec. 7, 2000; “This little piggy got taken to court“, Sept. 12, 2000; “Not so high off the hog“, Oct. 4, 1999.
“‘San Francisco Verdict Bodes Ill for Oil Industry’“, Jun. 11-12, 2002.
“‘Legal fight over chemical spill ends with whimper’” (W.V.), Jun. 7-9, 2002.
“Flowers, perfume in airline cabins not OK?” (Canada), May 17-19, 2002; “Scented hair gel, deodorant could mean jail time for Canadian youth“, Apr. 24, 2000.
“The mystery of the transgenic corn“, May 14-15, 2002.
“Erin Brockovich”, 2002: “‘Erin Brockovich, the Brand’“, Apr. 29-30. 2001: “Exxon Brockovich vs. Erin Valdez“, Nov. 15; “NBC mulls Brockovich talk show“, Nov. 6, 2001; “Brockovich a heroine? Julia really can act“, Mar. 23-25. 2000: “Errin’ Brockovich?“, Dec. 21, 2000; “‘All about Erin’“, Oct. 12; “More woes for ‘Brockovich’ lawyers“, Jun. 22-25; “Brockovich story, cont’d: the judges’ cruise“, Apr. 18; Brockovich story breaks wide open“, Apr. 17; “Plume of controversy“, Apr. 14-16; “Hollywood special“, Mar. 30. 1999: “A Civil Action II?“, July 7.
Trial lawyer/enviro alliance? “RFK Jr. blasted for hog farm remarks“, Apr. 15, 2002 (& Apr. 17, Apr. 19-21, letter to the editor and editor’s response, Apr. 19); “‘Working’ for whom?” (Environmental Working Group), May 23, 2001; “Judge throws out hog farm suit“, May 7, 2001; “‘Bogus’ assault on Norton“, Jan. 18, 2001; “Trial lawyers vs. hog farms“, Dec. 7, 2000.
“‘Former clients sue attorney O’Quinn’” (Kennedy Heights case), Apr. 8-9, 2002.
“Arsenic: one last dose?“, Mar. 22-24, 2002; “The view from Arsenictown“, Sept. 11, 2001; “‘The arithmetic of arsenic’“, Aug. 17-19; “Bush’s environmental centrism“, April 24; “Tempest in an arsenic-laced teacup?“, Apr. 18; “‘Bogus’ assault on Norton“, Jan. 18; “The Times vs. Gale Norton“, Jan. 15; “Ecology and economy“, Jan. 5-7, 2001.
“Liability concerns fell giant sequoia“, Mar. 12, 2002.
“Environmental lawsuits vs. military readiness“, Jan. 2-3, 2002.
“Overlawyered schools roundup” (environmental impact statement for teacher layoffs?), Dec. 7-9, 2001.
“Infectious disease conquered, CDC now chases sprawl“, Nov. 9-11, 2001.
“States lag in curbing junk science“, May 29, 2001.
“‘Family awarded $1 billion in lawsuit’” (Louisiana land contamination), May 24, 2001.
“Prospect of $3 gas“, May 10, 2001.
Who needs power anyway?: “Sweetness and light from Bill Lockyer“, Jun. 1-3, 2001 (& see June 8-10, June 22-24); “California electricity linkfest“, Mar. 26, 2001; “Brownout, Shivers & Dim, attorneys at law“, Oct. 11, 2000; “Worse than Y2K?” (EPA/DOJ suit against coal-burning utility plants), Nov. 18-19, 1999.
“Seventh Circuit rebukes EPA” (Superfund search and seizure), Apr. 23, 2001.
Attorneys’ fees: “Stories that got away” (Endangered Species Act suits), Jul. 23, 2001; “Losers should pay” (columnist Thomas Sowell; injunctions, bonding requirements), Aug. 4-7, 2000; “Marbled Murrelet v. Babbitt: heads I win, tails let’s call it even” (“one-way” fee shifts), Sept. 8, 1999 (& see National Law Journal, Dec. 14, 1999).
“Enviro litigator: debate belongs in Congress, not courts“, Dec. 29, 2000-Jan. 2, 2001.
“Federal power over mud puddles?” (wetlands case), Nov. 28, 2000.
“From the evergreen file: cancer alley a myth?“, Nov. 8, 2000.
“‘A Civil Action’ and Hollywood views of lawyers“, Jun. 20, 2000.
“Don’t cooperate” (lawyers’ advice re local health survey), Jun. 9-11, 2000.
“This side of parodies” (“dihydrogen monoxide” parody), May 10, 2000.
“Emerging campaign issue: ‘brownfields’ vs. Superfund lawyers“, Apr. 4, 2000; “Mayors: liability fears stalling ‘brownfields’ development“, Feb. 26-27, 2000.
“Lawyers for famine and wilderness-busting?” (anti-biotech), Jan. 3, 1999.
“Weekend reading: evergreens” (Race car great Bobby Unser’s snowmobiling rap), Dec. 3-5, 1999.
“Leave that mildew alone” (EPA considers mildew-proof paint to be pesticide), Nov. 30, 1999.
“Flag-burning protest requires environmental permits” (one for smoke, one for fire), Nov. 3, 1999.
“A mile wide and an inch deep” (EPA considers Platte River impaired because sun heats it up), Oct. 15, 1999.
“Careful what you tell your lawyer” (feds demand waiver of lawyer-client confidentiality in environmental cases), Sept. 14, 1999; “Overlawyered skies not always safer” (environmental audits and other “self-critical analysis”), Jul. 19, 1999.
“Tainted cycle” (class action over infectious bacterium in Milwaukee water supply), Sept. 2, 1999.
Articles by Overlawyered.com editor Walter Olson:
“Hollywood vs. the Truth” (“Civil Action” movie), Wall Street Journal, December 23, 1998.
“Lawyers with Stethoscopes: Clients Beware“, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo # 26, June 1996.
Food, 2003: “Give me my million“, Jun. 20-22; “Lawsuit’s demand: stop selling Oreos to kids“, May 13 (& update May 16-18: suit dropped); “Fast-food opinion roundup“, Mar. 25-30; “They’ll be back for seconds“, Feb. 19; “Claim: marriage impaired by tough bagel“, Feb. 3; “Judge tosses McDonald’s obesity case“, Jan. 23 (& Jan. 27-28); “U.K.: coercive campaign to constrain Cadbury“, Jan. 20; “Anti-diet activist hopes to sue Weight Watchers“, Jan. 13-14.
2002: “California’s hazardous holiday” (acrylamide), Dec. 27-29; “Scourge of the Super-Size order“, Nov. 7; “WHO demands pretzel de-salting by law“, Nov. 1-3; Letter to the editor, Oct. 23; “Personal responsibility roundup“, Sept. 12; “Fat suits, cont’d“, Jul. 26-28; “‘Ailing man sues fast-food firms’“, Jul. 25; “Sin-suit city“, Jun. 10; “McArdle on food as next-tobacco“, May 27 (& Jun. 3-4); “Nader credibility watch” (calls fast-food restaurants “weapons of mass destruction”), May 24-26; “The mystery of the transgenic corn“, May 14-15; “‘Targeting “big food”‘“, Apr. 29-30; “‘Woman sues snack food company for spoiling diet’“, Apr. 23-24; “No more restaurant doggie bags“, Mar. 20-21; “Fast-food roundup“, Mar. 11; “King Cake figurine menace averted“, Feb. 1-3; “McMouse story looking dubious“, Jan. 25-27; “Life imitates parody: ‘Whose Fault Is Fat?‘”, Jan. 23-24. “‘Hot-dog choking prompts lawsuit’“, Jan. 2-3.
2001: “There’ll always be a California” (chocolate and Prop 65), Dec. 4; Letter to the editor (Wisc. exempts lutefisk from toxic-substance status), Nov. 29; “Disposable turkey pan litigation“, Nov. 23-25; “‘Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition’” (candy bars too), Nov. 18; “‘Baskin-Robbins lawsuit puts family in dis-flavor’“, Aug. 2; “‘Couple sues over flaming Pop-Tart’“, July 30; “Feeling queasy?” (E. coli), July 27-29; “‘Man sues Rite Aid over stale jelly bean’“, July 20-22; “By reader acclaim: ‘Vegetarian sues McDonald’s over meaty fries“, May 4-6; “Woman settles hot pickle suit with McDonald’s“, April 16 (& Oct. 10, 2000); “Putting the ‘special’ in special sauce” (alleged rat in Big Mac), March 29.
2000: “You deserve a beak today” (McDonald’s chicken case), Dec. 6.
1999: “Are they kidding, or not-kidding?” (proposal for suits against makers of fattening foods), Nov. 15; “Toffee maker sued for tooth irritation“, Nov. 5-7; “More things you can’t have” (unpasteurized cider), Sept. 27; “Not just our imagination” (calls for class actions against fast food, meat industry), Sept. 25-26; “Taco Bell not liable for Ganges purification pilgrimage“, Aug. 30.
Beverages: “Litigation good for the country?” (Carl T. Bogus), Aug. 19, 2002; “British judge rejects hot-drink suits“, Mar. 29-31, 2002 (& Aug. 10, 2000); “‘Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition’“, Nov. 18, 2001; “‘Group sues Starbucks over tea ingredient’“, Sept. 10; “By reader acclaim” (maker of cup holder), Jan. 11, 2001; “‘Court says warning about hot coffee unnecessary’” (Nevada Supreme Court), July 18, 2000; “Now it’s hot chocolate“, April 4; “Next on the class-action agenda: liquor?“, March 22, 2000; & see Sept. 10, 2001. For burns from hot beverages that were under the control of the complainant, see also personal responsibility page.
December 20-22 — Advance notice for The Rule of Lawyers. Our author’s new book still won’t reach most stores for a few weeks, but it’s garnering early notice in some prominent places. More than a month back Amity Shlaes of London’s Financial Times gave it a mention in a column profiling hyperactive New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (Amity Shlaes, “Local enforcer who has changed national laws”, Financial Times/Jewish World Review, Oct. 31). Last month it got discussed in the New York Times arts section (Daphne Eviatar, “Is Litigation a Blight, or Built In?”, New York Times, Nov. 23, second page). Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund, recounting highlights of the career of Sen. Trent Lott for the paper’s online OpinionJournal.com, quotes the book’s discussion of how the lawyers suing the tobacco industry tried to exploit Lott’s family connection to attorney Dickie Scruggs (“A Tale of Two Bubbas”, OpinionJournal.com, Dec. 19).
Deserving special notice is Roger Parloff’s piece in The American Lawyer and other Law.com publications (“Authors Throw the Book at Lawyers”, Dec. 12), which calls the book “a focused, healthy, provocative, enjoyable read. … that rare book that, should it ever burrow its way into the opposing camp’s conversational pipelines, could really gum up the works.” Among other blushworthy excerpts: “Olson’s wry, amusing, libertarian take on the increasingly preposterous role that mass tort lawyers have assumed in our society — and in the funding of the Democratic Party — may not only spur many Democrats to reshuffle their standard talking points on those issues, but may even afford them some guilty, cant-piercing pleasures along the way. Speaking as a Democrat, I’d say the burgeoning scandal of the mass tort bar is our Enron.” (DURABLE LINK)
December 20-22 — Trial lawyers vs. thimerosal. Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit (Dec. 19, three posts: # 1, 2, 3) has the latest on the flap over new federal curbs on lawsuits that claim damage to children’s health from thimerosal, a mercury-containing compound long used to preserve vaccines. According to the Centers for Disease Control (“Thimerosal & Vaccines“), citing Food and Drug Administration research, “There is no evidence to suggest that thimerosal in vaccines causes any health problems in children and adults beyond local hypersensitivity reactions (like redness and swelling at the injection site.)” This has not kept trial lawyers from urging parents of autistic children to view the compound as responsible for their children’s plight: Derek Lowe checked out law firms’ websites and found lurid examples (Dec. various dates — scroll down for more good posts). “Dr. Manhattan” has much more on the controversy (Dec. 18) and see also MedPundit (Dec. 5). For more on the recent legislative move to ensure that claims against thimerosal are incorporated into the general federal vaccine compensation scheme, see Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Suits Over Mercury-Containing Vaccines May Be Down for the Count”, National Law Journal, Nov. 27; “The Truth About Thimerosal” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Dec. 5. (DURABLE LINK)
December 20-22 — Putting fraud proceeds to use. John Deokaran, a former insurance manager from Hammond, La., has pleaded guilty to taking more than $530,000 from Allstate Insurance by routing checks for imaginary claims to fictitious plumbing contracting companies that he controlled. Deokaran must make restitution or face prison time. “Among other things, Deokaran spent some of the money to pay for law school,” said Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub. (“AG Ieyoub: Hammond Man Must Pay Back Fake Claims Money Laundering Sentence Stipulates Full Restitution”, Office of AG Ieyoub, Aug. 20). (DURABLE LINK)
December 18-19 — The right not to be looked at? “The Chicago Cubs are suing the owners of rooftop businesses that overlook Wrigley Field and sell tickets to watch games, saying the establishments are stealing from the team.” (“Cubs sue owners of rooftop businesses near Wrigley”, AP/Indianapolis Star, Dec. 17). Update May 9, 2004: dispute settled with payments from rooftop business owners to team. (DURABLE LINK)
December 18-19 — “Asbestos fraud”. Extremely scathing column on the case of asbestos litigation, in which “the thirst for profits has led a small group of trial lawyers to erode the rights of legitimate victims while driving dozens of companies into bankruptcy and — worst of all — corrupting the court system. If Congress does not fix this problem, shame on it.” (Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post, Nov. 20). (DURABLE LINK)
December 18-19 — British free-speech case. Robin Page, a columnist for the London Daily Telegraph, “has been arrested on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred after making a speech at a pro-hunting rally,” according to that paper. How had he done that? “Mr Page … told his audience that Londoners had the right to run their own events, such as the Brixton carnival and gay pride marches, which celebrated black and gay culture. Why therefore, he asked, should country people not have the right to do what they liked in the countryside[?]” Page, who was released on bail, “denied having made any comment that could be construed as racist during the address. … Gloucestershire police confirmed that they had arrested Mr Page on suspicion of violating Section 18 (1) of the Public Order Act, referring to stirring up racial hatred.” (Daily Telegraph, Nov. 20) (via WSJ Best of the Web) (DURABLE LINK)
December 18-19 — Mass disasters belong in federal court. Most mass litigation resulting from transportation accidents or other single-site disasters which result in the deaths of 75 or more people will henceforth have to be filed in federal court, according to the provisions of a bill quietly enacted by Congress this fall with the support of the Bush administration. The bill is favored by defendants in part because it restricts the ability of plaintiff’s lawyers to shop around for state court venues that are hostile to defendants or that afford “home cooking”. (Julie Kay, “Disaster Plan”, Miami Daily Business Review, Nov. 21). (DURABLE LINK)
December 16-17 — By reader acclaim: “Ex-jurors file $6 billion suit against ’60 Minutes'”. “Two former Jefferson County, Mississippi, jurors have filed a $6 billion lawsuit against CBS’ ’60 Minutes’ and a newspaper owner over comments about the size of jury awards in the county. Anthony Berry and Johnny Anderson said the news program defamed them in a segment that called the county a haven for ‘jackpot justice.’ Berry was among jurors who made a $150 million verdict in an asbestos case, and Anderson sat on a jury that awarded a $150 million judgment in a diet drug case. Wyatt Emmerich, who owns Emmerich Newspapers Inc., is also being sued: “In the program, Emmerich described those on Jefferson County juries as disenfranchised residents who want to stick it to Yankee companies”. Emmerich called his inclusion in the suit an attack on free speech. (AP/CNN, Dec. 10; Jerry Mitchell, “TV show on Miss. justice stirs suit”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Dec. 10). Update Mar. 6, 2005: federal appeals court affirms dismissal of suit. (DURABLE LINK)
December 16-17 — “Bogus Claims Discovered in Fen-Phen Class Action”. “In a strongly worded opinion that questioned the ethics of two law firms and two doctors, the federal judge who is overseeing the $3.75 billion fen-phen diet drug class action settlement has found that dozens of claims of heart-valve damage were ‘medically unreasonable’ and that the doctors and lawyers responsible for the bogus claims must now be watched more closely. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III said he was forced to issue an injunction because the settlement funds were set aside for ‘rightful claimants who suffered from fen-phen and not as a pot of gold for lawyers, physicians and non-qualifying claimants.'” Two New York law firms — Napoli Kaiser Bern & Associates and Hariton & D’Angelo — had submitted claims for their clients which included an unusually high rate of claimed serious heart valve abnormalities. Judge Bartle wrote that the practice of an expert employed by the Napoli and Hariton firms “resembled a mass production operation that would have been the envy of Henry Ford”. (Shannon P. Duffy, The Legal Intelligencer, Nov. 19)(see Sept. 27 and links from there). (DURABLE LINK)
December 16-17 — Ninth Circuit panel sniffs collusion in bias settlement fees. “The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upended a multimillion-dollar race discrimination settlement Tuesday, citing suspicions that the attorney fees were the product of collusion. The split three-judge panel described the injunctive relief won in the case against Boeing Co. as ‘relatively weak,’ and said it and the $7 million in damages didn’t appear to justify more than $4 million in fees and a broad release of liability.” The case, purportedly on behalf of 15,000 black Boeing employees, had resulted in the company’s promise to institute changes in employment practices. However, Judge Marsha Berzon called such curative measures an “inexact and easily manipulable value,” and said they should not be viewed as creating a common fund for purposes of fee calculation. “Harrell, Desper, Connell, Hunter & Gautschi, the Seattle-based firm representing the class, had supplied many declarations, including one from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, supporting the terms of the settlement.” (Jason Hoppin, “9th Circuit Scraps Race Bias Settlement, Cites Attorney Fees”, The Recorder, Nov. 27). (DURABLE LINK)
December 13-15 — Back from hiatus. Our editor’s hiatus to handle personal business met with the happiest possible outcome, but as a result he’s facing new family responsibilities that will keep posting slow at best. Better some posting than none at all, at least, right? (DURABLE LINK)
December 13-15 — Using his own name a legal risk. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Bill Wyman shares his name with a somewhat well-known musician who played bass with the Rolling Stones. He was nonetheless unprepared when he received a letter from the musician’s lawyer suggesting that he might be violating the other guy’s rights by … well, by going on using his own name (Bill Wyman, “Will the real Bill Wyman please tune up?”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
December 13-15 — Florida school shooting: the deep pockets did it. A Palm Beach County, Fla. jury has declared that a school board, an owner from whom a gun was stolen and the gun’s distributor should be liable for the classroom shooting of Lake Worth teacher Barry Grunow by 16-year-old student Nathaniel Brazill. “The jury didn’t find any liability for Brazill, who pulled the trigger. Brazill stole the unloaded gun and bullets from a cookie tin stashed away in a dresser drawer of family friend Elmore McCray.” (“Gun Company Must Pay Teacher’s Widow”, WPLG, Nov. 15). “Attorney Bob Montgomery, known for successfully spearheading the state’s efforts to sue Big Tobacco for $11.3 billion, said he hoped the gun case would achieve the same crippling results against the gun industry.” (“Gun distributor must pay in teacher’s death”, AP/Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight, Nov. 15). Update Feb. 4-5: judge throws out case (DURABLE LINK)
December 13-15 — Law’s attraction for the bully. “[A] lot of hyper-glandular people are attracted to the legal profession because it looks like the perfect job for bullying other people. Plus, it pays well. Of course, the apologists for this sort of bad lawyering (mostly like-minded and acting lawyers) … argue that all that I am carping about is what is known as ‘zealous advocacy’ — which is next to godliness in the pantheon of ethical requirements. Of course, there is no ‘ethical requirement’ that justifies what some lawyers do in terms of name-calling, rules-flouting and frivolous motion-filing. It is simply a conceit that these lawyers rely on to transform their vices into supposed virtues.” (Jim McCormack, “Deconstructing Opposing Counsel”, Texas Lawyer, Oct. 25). (DURABLE LINK)
December 13-15 — Gotham’s trial lawyer-legislators. If it’s unusually hard for New Yorkers to obtain any legislative relief from their state’s lawsuit culture, our editor observes in an op-ed, maybe one reason is that numerous lawmakers are themselves trial lawyers, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan (who previously practiced with controversial tobacco-beneficiary law firm Schneider Kleinick, and recently joined controversial asbestos/product liability law firm Weitz & Luxenberg) along with New York City Council members Michael E. McMahon and Domenic M. Recchia. (Walter Olson, “Legal Payola”, New York Post, Nov. 21, reprinted at Manhattan Institute site). (DURABLE LINK)
* A panel of the Fourth Circuit threw out (PDF) the $2 million punitive damage award against Duke University under federal sex discrimination law to Heather Sue Mercer, “who was allowed a walk-on spot as a kicker on the school’s football team but [was] treated differently than other players.” (see Oct. 13, 2000) (Leslie Brown, “Court voids kicker’s award”, Raleigh News & Observer, undated circa Nov. 16) (The Mat forums)
* The Ohio Supreme Court’s pro-litigation majority, shortly before voters turned it into a minority, dealt Ford Motor Co. a setback by ordering a new trial in a case where the automaker had rebuffed charges of “sudden acceleration” in its Crown Victoria model (see Jun. 6, 2000) (Alan Fisk, “Videotape Revives Lawsuit Against Ford Motor Co.”, National Law Journal, Oct. 21).
* An Alaska federal judge cut the punitive damage award against Exxon Mobil in the Valdez spill case from $5 billion to $4 billion; the litigation could still drag on for years more (see Nov. 15, 2001) (Jason Hoppin, “Exxon Valdez Award Reduced — but Only to $4B”, The Recorder, Dec. 10).
* In the controversy over baseball bats that are allegedly too powerful (see Apr. 19, 2002), a California state appeals court has rejected assumption-of-risk defenses and ruled that a college baseball player can sue the University of Southern California, “the Pacific-10 Conference, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the makers of the Louisville Slugger bat on the ground that the company’s Air Attack 2 bat substantially increases the dangers of America’s pastime by letting the ball be smacked at hair-raising speeds.” (Mike McKee, “Bat Ups Chance of Baseball Injuries, Appeals Court Rules”, The Recorder, Dec. 24). (DURABLE LINK)
December 27-29 — Receivers in bankruptcy. “In the bizarre yet lucrative world of Enron’s bankruptcy, everyone seems to have a complaint these days. The $300-an-hour lawyers complain that the $500-an-hour lawyers are charging exorbitant fees. … Already, lawyers and other professionals have billed Enron close to $300 million in what some critics say is an unparalleled fee bonanza,” some of it going to the same high-priced professionals who advised the company before its fall. (David Barboza, “The Meter Runs in Enron Case, as the Lawyers Retain Lawyers”, New York Times, Dec. 25). Some of the lawyers have submitted expense requests that included liquor purchases; other practices include “marking up the costs of photocopies and faxes, and charging for clerical work at lawyers’ steep hourly rates”. (Otis Bilodeau, “Enron Lawyers Face Fee Cuts”, Legal Times, Dec. 10). (DURABLE LINK)
December 27-29 — California’s hazardous holiday. Chestnuts-roasting menace averted, cont’d: taking a cue from Berkeley and other Bay Area cities, air quality regulators in California’s Central Valley are proposing a ban on traditional wood-burning fireplaces in homes, as well as regulations on how existing ones can be used. “Under proposed rules that would take effect next year, most wood-burning fireplaces and stoves would be banned in new homes. Masonry fireplaces would have to be permanently disabled, converted to natural gas or upgraded to expensive soot-containing models before homes could be sold. Also, on bad air days during the winter, many Central Californians would be prohibited from lighting up their existing wood-burning stoves and fireplaces in a concerted effort to get the smoggy valley to comply with the Clean Air Act.” (Kim Baca, “California air regulators propose fireplace ban”, Sacramento Bee, Dec. 6)(see Dec. 24-27, 2001). Also in California, environmentalist lawyers using a bounty-hunting statute recently sued restaurants serving French fries on the grounds that the fries contain measurable amounts of acrylamide, a potentially hazardous substance generated when starch is subjected to heat. A complicating factor, however, according to the food-industry-defense Center for Consumer Freedom, is that “A nationwide study carried out in Germany has found that gingerbread contains seven times the amount of acrylamide found in French fries.” Better enjoy that holiday baking binge while it’s still legal. (“Just when you thought the holidays were safe”, Center for Consumer Freedom, Dec. 9; “French fry lawsuit-mongers unmasked“, Sept. 9). (DURABLE LINK)
December 24-26 — Merry Christmas. We’ll take a couple of days off to celebrate the holiday, and see you Friday. (DURABLE LINK)
December 24-26 — “Court Waives Deadline as ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ for Disabled Litigator”. We figured this would happen, and now it has: “An upstate New York judge has held for the first time that the courts must reasonably accommodate a visually impaired attorney who breached the time restrictions for submitting a judgment. … Finding that the ‘courtroom and court system constitute the trial lawyer’s workplace,’ and that the workplace ‘logically extends to the preparation of documents associated with litigation,’ [New York State Supreme Court Justice Robert] Julian held that [attorney Norman] Deep is owed an accommodation.” (John Caher, “Court Waives Deadline as ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ for Disabled Litigator”, New York Law Journal, Dec. 2). (DURABLE LINK)
December 24-26 — “Britain sued for millions by Mau Mau terrorists”. “The families of soldiers who fought the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya reacted with fury last night to news that former terrorists are planning to sue the British Government over their treatment after being taken captive.” (Daniel Foggo and Christian Steenberg, Daily Telegraph, Nov. 10). (DURABLE LINK)
December 23 — Lawyers’ advertising, 25 years later. In 1977, by a 5 to 4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lawyers have a constitutional right to advertise for clients. A retrospective by the National Law Journal‘s Mark Ballard mentions some of the resulting low-water marks of taste, including “the one where 300 pounds of lawyer emerges from the water to the strains of ‘Swan Lake’ bedecked in gold chains and carrying a chest of cash with the message that he’ll bring the treasure home to you,” the one featuring “Robert Vaughn, former ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.,’ in suspenders, sternly promising that whichever attorney was hired in that particular market was so fearsome that otherwise recalcitrant insurance companies will roll over and pay up big bucks,” and — no specifics given, alas, but deplored by a former Florida bar president — episodes in which lawyers have “drive[n] hearses to shill no-frill wills” and sponsored cars in demolition derbies to promote personal-injury practices. (Mark Ballard, “Coming to Terms With the $20,000 Ad”, National Law Journal, Sept. 25; “The Ad-Made Man and the Old-Line Firm”, National Law Journal, Oct. 3; “The Little Ad That Changed Everything”, National Law Journal, Oct. 10). (DURABLE LINK)