- After a crackdown on saloon drinking backed by Theodore Roosevelt and others, creative New Yorkers opened 1500 new “hotels” and complied with rules linking alcohol to food by serving desiccated sandwiches meant not to be eaten [Darrell Hartman, Atlas Obscura on Raines Law]
- “‘The evidence is very, very strong that there’s a powerful potential health benefit if you can’t get people to quit entirely, to get them to switch from cigarette smoking to vaping,’ Olson said.” [Scott McClallen, Center Square] Here comes Massachusetts to make things worse [Jeffrey Singer]
- If you suppose that transcontinental air travel is worsening the risk of global pandemics, then you may suppose erroneously [Johan Norberg “Dead Wrong” video]
- Zoning will not bring slimness: “Fast-Food Bans Are a Dumb Idea That Won’t Die” [Baylen Linnekin] Having a supermarket enter a food desert has at best a minor effect on healthy eating [Hunt Allcott et al., Quarterly Journal of Economics, earlier]
- The imperialism of public health: wealth inequality, affordable housing declared topics for action by the public health profession [Petrie-Flom]
- “From the 1910s through the 1950s, and in some places into the 1960s and 1970s, tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of American women were detained and forcibly examined for STIs…. If the women tested positive, U.S. officials locked them away in penal institutions with no due process….. During World War II, the American Civil Liberties Union not only failed to oppose the Plan; its founder, Roger Baldwin, sent a memorandum encouraging its local branches to cooperate with officials enforcing it.” [Scott W. Stern, History.com]
- Public health campaign against arsenic-tainted wells in Bangladesh appears to have inadvertently increased child mortality in places where alternative was surface water, which is more likely to carry microbial contamination [Nina Buchmann, Erica M. Field, Rachel Glennerster, & Reshmaan N. Hussam, Cato Research Briefs in Economic Policy No. 180]
- It works if your court is in Maine: “Motion to Continue Because of Moose Attack” [Lowering the Bar]
- “John Bolton is Right About the International Criminal Court” [Jeremy Rabkin, Weekly Standard, earlier]
- No kidding. “Unintended Impact: Detroit Crackdown on Landlords Could Boost Rents” [Deadline Detroit; Violet Ikonomova, Metro Times]
- Advocacy groups “were focused on food deserts ‘because access was a social justice issue. It wasn’t based on evidence because there wasn’t any evidence.'” [Tamar Haspel, Washington Post]
- “Good moral character” prerequisites for holding licenses are vague and subjective even in ordinary times, and should not be pressed into surrogate use against political foes [Jonathan Haggerty and C. Jarrett Dieterle, R Street Institute]
- California fisheries and Chevron deference: “An Otter Travesty by the Administrative State” [Ilya Shapiro on Cato cert amicus petition in California Sea Urchin Commission v. Combs]
THEY ARE NOT MESSING AROUND WITH THE NEW SUGAR TAX IN SEATTLE pic.twitter.com/xqmj7940y2
— hayden ? (@HaydenBedsole) January 5, 2018
The city of Seattle has now put its stiff new 1.75 cents per ounce tax on sugary beverages (text of bill) into effect, and Costco managers in the tech city, much to their credit, have not hesitated to post signs informing shoppers of its impact. According to a reporter’s photo, the sign atop a Gatorade Frost Variety Pack lists the regular Costco price of $15.99 along with $10.34 in newly added Seattle tax for a total of $26.33. Helpfully, an adjacent sign advises shoppers that the same item “is also available at our Tukwila and Shoreline locations without City of Seattle Sweetened Beverage Tax.”
- “First they interview people at the Costco who are rightfully shocked at how high prices on soda and sports drinks are now (they are almost doubled).”
- “Then they interview a public health advocate who says ‘that’s right! We want these prices to change people’s behavior and slow sales!’”
- “Then they talk to the consumer, ‘think you’ll change your behavior, maybe even shop somewhere else?’ And she’s like, ‘ya the Tukwila store is close enough.’ Then they ask a city council member if this will hurt local biz, who says ‘there is no data’ suggesting that.”
- “Then the SAME public health advocate says that people won’t respond to price increases, shopping elsewhere because it isn’t ‘worth their while.’”
- “You can’t have it both ways people! The tax is either big enough to elicit behavior change, which would slow sales and hurt local biz and potentially reduce calories, or it isn’t. Get your stories straight!”
In 2016 I wrote about Philadelphia’s soda tax that “while all taxes are evaded to some extent, excise taxes are especially subject to evasion based on local geography”, and followed up on the Philly measure’s possible openings for unlawful evasion and eventual public corruption. Seattle authorities intend to use the hoped-for $15 million revenue stream to fund various causes and organizations including an effort to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to urban neighborhoods, even though the once-voguish “food deserts” theory blaming dietary choices on the retail environment has sufferedone debunking after another in recent years. [cross-posted and expanded from Cato at Liberty]
P.S. I used to see this constantly from trial lawyers and their advocates on the question of whether it was a good thing for liability insurance rates to rise reflecting the big liberalization of tort recovery that was going on when I wrote The Litigation Explosion. Higher rates were socially desirable, they would say, because they would expose and discourage dangerous actors, such as incompetent doctors and drivers. There followed a big public reaction when it turned out it was not so easy to pick out bad apples ahead of time and that entire specialties like obstetricians and neurosurgeons were having to pay massive premiums. They then switched to the position that there was no connection between expected future payouts and liability premiums, that the problem was insurance companies being greedy, and that liability insurance rates should be frozen by law.
P.P.S. “Philadelphia implemented a 1.5-cent tax on soda in January of last year. …By August, the marketing firm Catalania found a 55 percent decline in the sale of carbonated soft drinks within the city limits — and a 38 percent jump in stores just outside of Philadelphia. Revenue from Philadelphia’s soda tax has also proven disappointing, coming in at $7 million below projections for fiscal year 2017.” [Christian Britschgi, Reason]
I quote Samuel Johnson’s famous definition of excise in my new Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed on the city’s recently enacted soda levy. More: Peter Van Doren, Cato; Jacob Sullum and Elizabeth Nolan Brown on claims of a food deserts problem, both at Reason. And see July 5 update (openings for merchant illegality and public corruption).
Meanwhile, even former enthusiasts are beginning to give up on the “food desert” theory — opening a supermarket nearby does little to change unhealthy diet habits. So guess what’s next? Yep, calls for more and stronger intervention [Ann Althouse].
It’s disturbing to think of the federal government’s pressuring and jawboning a private business to reformulate perfectly lawful products, cut prices on some lines of goods, and so forth. In this case, however, as I told the Washington Times, there’s reason to think the nation’s largest retailer might have wanted to proceed with a “healthy-eating” remake anyway, and this way it can get Michelle Obama’s valuable endorsement with all the attendant publicity. Bonus: Ms. Obama has now vocally backed the idea of opening Wal-Marts in more “underserved areas” such as urban neighborhoods without full-line supermarkets; in the past union and local-merchant opposition has often stymied Wal-Mart’s wish to enter such neighborhoods.
P.S. Coincident news story: creepy pro-union group pickets home of developer who hopes to bring Wal-Mart to the District of Columbia. And Ira Stoll has covered the sometimes-exaggerated extent of “food deserts”.
Claims for accommodation of religious conscience are not inherently a “right” or “left” phenomenon, any more than is religion itself. That’s an old story — in case anyone had forgotten the sides Justices Brennan and Scalia took on the constitutional angle — but it comes to mind once more with an Arizona federal court’s decision in favor of four liberal believers moved to violate federal law out of sympathy for persons illegally crossing the southwest border. David French, The Dispatch:
Using RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, oft a target of liberal wrath in recent years], it overturned the convictions of four people affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Church who were prosecuted for “violations of the regulations governing the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge.” The defendants were convicted after entering the refuge without the necessary permits and “leaving supplies of food and water in an area of desert wilderness where people frequently die of dehydration and exposure.”
Questions of entitlement to religious exemption and accommodation from otherwise applicable law are best decided according to impartial principle, not on the basis of which team stands to benefit in the case at hand.
Even as absurd NYC policy ideas go, this one’s a doozy [Seth Barron, City Journal]:
To encourage a “sustainable, resilient food system,” New York’s city council has proposed a $5 million municipal farm-subsidy program, under which the city would buy development easements in the Hudson Valley. In this way, the council plans to help feed “3 million New Yorkers liv[ing] in neighborhoods without adequate supermarkets.” It’s alarming to consider that New York could suffer food shortages so acute that the city government must establish its own agricultural supply chain.
EDITED, see comments: Correspondent Carl Edman shares an anecdote on Twitter of a Soviet dignitary visiting London who asked about the bureau in charge of food supply to the city “and was shocked when told that there was no such thing and nobody in charge. At least that won’t happen in future NYC!”
May 9-11 — Senate panel nixes tobacco-fee clawback. “Senators working on a tax bill Thursday stripped a proposal that would have forced attorneys in a landmark tobacco lawsuit to give $9 billion in fees back to the states they represented.” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., had proposed requiring plaintiff’s lawyers in the tobacco affair to return to their state-government clients fees in excess of $2,500/hour or thereabouts. “But Democrats, led by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and joined by Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Gordon Smith of Oregon, won a 12-8 vote to strike the language. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that if Congress can change the terms of the tobacco settlement, there is nothing to stop it from telling every business in America to change the way they pay their executives.” It’s almost as if Sen. Kerry doesn’t realize that 1) a host of federal laws already on the books, notably tax provisions, do purposely shape the way businesses compensate their executives; 2) lawyers, unlike business execs, practice under professional ethical codes which are supposed to bar them specifically from charging excessive fees; 3) lawyers who claim to represent the government (and thus the public) come under some of the most stringent ethical constraints of all. (“Senate Democrats Strike Proposal to Limit Fees for Lawyers in Tobacco Case”, AP/Tampa Bay Online, May 8; Stephen Moore, “Targeting lawyers who got rich off tobacco trials”, Scripps Howard/Nando Times, May 2) (& welcome Law.com readers). (DURABLE LINK)
May 9-11 — Update: “U.S. is sued for deaths of crossers”. “The families of 14 illegal entrants who died crossing the desert east of Yuma in May 2001 have filed a $42 million lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior.” As we reported a year ago when the cases were at an earlier procedural stage, “The suit charges the government with failing to authorize the placement of water stations intended for use by unlawful visitors, though it knew smugglers of immigrants were active in the desert area.” (Michael Marizco, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), May 8). (DURABLE LINK)
May 8 — “No Crueler Tyrannies”. Dorothy Rabinowitz’s long-awaited book on the mass-child-abuse accusation frenzy of the 1980s and 1990s is now available at this link. It collects and extends the widely acclaimed Wall Street Journal reporting that prepared the way for the author’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize (review by Carol Iannone, Commentary, May; C-SPAN “Booknotes” interview with Brian Lamb, May 4; Suzanne Fields, “A cruel tyranny at home”, syndicated/TownHall, Apr. 3; other reviews at Amazon site). (DURABLE LINK)
May 8 — More on Edwards’ law-firm donations. Washington periodical The Hill digs deeper into the curiously uniform $2,000 contributions Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign got from so many receptionists, paralegals and other low-level staffers at plaintiff’s law firms. The $2,000 donors include many employees who had not given to candidates or even voted in the past, and others who are listed on the voting rolls as Republicans. Many spouses and relatives of the staffers likewise contributed the maximum. Some of the munificent staffers have recently gone through the kind of personal financial reverses — bankruptcy filings, for example — which would not seem to correlate in the natural order of things with having a large available checkbook for political donations. “In many instances, all the checks from a given firm arrived on the same day — from partners, attorneys, and other support staff.” Employees denied that their law-firm employers had signaled any willingness to reimburse the donations, which would constitute a violation of federal law. (Sam Dealey, “Donations to Sen. Edwards questioned”, The Hill, May 7). (DURABLE LINK)
May 7 — Mississippi investigation heats up. Per the Times of South Mississippi (Hattiesburg), the “net may be widening” in the FBI’s previously reported investigation of improper ties between Mississippi judges and well-known trial lawyers (see Oct. 9-10 and 11-13, 2002). “Sources said this week as many as 25 indictments could be issued …While reports of the investigation have focused on the Gulf Coast, sources said the probe now includes campaign contributions from trial lawyers connected to Southwest Mississippi,” renowned as the center of intense litigation against pharmaceutical companies. (“Bob Pittman, “FBI widening its investigation of campaign funding”, Times of South Mississippi (Hattiesburg), May 5. See also “Diaz’s dad testifies before grand jury”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Apr. 12; Jerry Mitchell, “Judicial probe intensifying”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, May 2).
“Meanwhile,” the Hattiesburg paper continues, “four trial lawyers who have been active in lawsuits against prescription drug manufacturers are named as defendants in a growing number of court actions in Jefferson County. In at least four suits filed to date, trial lawyers Dennis Sweet, Shane Langston, Richard Freese and Richard Schwartz, all of Jackson, have been named as defendants in cases in which it is alleged that the four either withheld settlement money from clients or failed to pay hired ‘runners’ who were employed to enroll plaintiffs in cases which the lawyers filed in several different counties in Mississippi, including Jasper County.” (May 5 article, cited above). See also Bob Pittman, “Judge asked to step aside in trial lawyer suit”, May 1; Bob Pittman, “Suit alleges lawyer used ‘fake clients'”, May 1. (DURABLE LINK)
May 7 — Jury selection in Britain. Notwithstanding the understandable outcry over a recent case in which a British judge excluded prospective jurors from a politically sensitive trial based on their religion, the general rule in the English system is for jurors to be drawn from a near-universal pool and selection to be made at random. “English lawyers are not pestered by jury consultants: they do not exist here. We do not have days of jury selection before a trial starts, as I have seen for myself several times in the United States, with prospective jurors questioned in depth and sometimes with aggression by lawyers anxious to explore possible prejudices. Defense barristers in England used to have the right of seven (then whittled down to three) peremptory challenges without any need for courtroom interrogation….But Parliament abolished peremptory challenges by the defense in 1989, and although not technically abolished, ‘standing by for the Crown’ [the equivalent for the prosecution] now seldom occurs.” For-cause challenges are rare as well. (Fenton Bresler, “Picking juries — or not”, National Law Journal, Mar. 17, not online). (DURABLE LINK)
May 6 — “Robber sues clerk who shot him during holdup”. Muncie, Ind.: “A convicted robber is suing the convenience store clerk who shot him as he fled after a holdup. Willie Brown, 44, claimed the clerk acted ‘maliciously and sadistically’ in firing five shots as Brown ran out of Zipps Deli with money from the store’s cash register.” Brown, who was struck by bullets in the back and side, pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to four years in prison. His earlier convictions included one for robbery and two for burglary. (AP/Indianapolis Star, Apr. 18). And in Great Britain, “Government lawyers trying to keep the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin behind bars will tell a High Court judge tomorrow that burglars are members of the public who must be protected from violent householders.” (Robert Verkaik, “Government lawyers say burglars ‘need protection'”, The Independent (UK), May 5). Plus: in Bentonville, Ark., inmate Kenneth J. Lewis II is suing Nina Baugh for $140,000 in damages; according to affidavits, Lewis was shot by Baugh after he attempted to burglarize her family’s pawn shop and another business. Lewis was sentenced in January to 12 years’ imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to commercial burglary and aggravated assault (Tracy M. Neal, “Convicted burglar sues woman who shot him during crime”, Benton County Daily Record, Apr. 19). (DURABLE LINK)
May 6 — Year’s most injudicious judges. The National Law Journal‘s annual survey of misbehavior on the bench includes jurists alleged to have slept with litigants, offered to fix cases, set new records for rudeness, and run a Ponzi scheme from chambers, not to mention the jurist who is said to have referred to himself as “God”. (Gail Diane Cox, “The Injudicious: Judges who crossed the line — or erased it”, May 5). (DURABLE LINK)
May 5 — Friends in high places, cont’d. A bill expanding wrongful death damages — a top priority of the state’s trial lawyer association — is moving quickly through the GOP-controlled New York state senate; it happens that the “head of the Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the bill is big-time trial lawyer John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse). It’s not just Democrats like Assembly Speaker (and trial lawyer) Shelly Silver who are in the lawyer lobby’s pocket.” (“Lawyer leeches would bleed N.Y.C.” (editorial), New York Daily News, Apr. 18)(more on bill, Business Council of New York State)(see Dec. 13-15, 2002, Oct. 4, 2000). And in Kansas, “Gov. Kathleen Sebelius used her first veto to reject a bill designed to promote rural tourism. Specifically, the bill would shield from lawsuits farmers and ranchers who, for a fee, let people watch and take part in some farm activities. … The strongest opposition to the bill came from the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association, which employed Sebelius as executive director before her election to the House in 1986.” (Steve Painter, “Sebelius vetoes farmer liability shield”, Wichita Eagle, Apr. 16). While with the KTLA Sebelius “worked closely with the Legislature as a lobbyist” (bio) and then went on to attract widespread notice as her state’s insurance commissioner before running for governor. (DURABLE LINK)
May 5 — Prospering despite reform. Some observers thought the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 law “was aimed at putting [class action firm] Milberg Weiss — and especially partner William Lerach, the lawyer many corporate executives love to hate — out of business. … Instead, according to a new study by Stanford Law School’s Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research, Milberg Weiss is doing better than ever.” (Tamara Loomis, “Milberg Weiss Stronger Than Ever Despite Reform Act”, New York Law Journal, Apr. 24). An analysis for the Cato Institute by Adam S. Pritchard of the University of Michigan Law School concludes that the law has, as intended, worked to raise the average quality of securities suits and weed out those with least merit. (“Should Congress Repeal Securities Class Action Reform?”, Cato Policy Analysis, Feb. 27 (executive summary, full text in PDF format)). (DURABLE LINK)
May 3-4 — “Streets Strewn With Glass, Gold”. Don’t miss this profile of D.C.’s subculture of “accident investigators” who solicit participants in car crashes to file lawsuits, often bombarding their phones with evening and early-morning calls for days. “The lawyer who introduced him to the business was killed by a car while standing on an exit ramp, apparently talking with accident victims, [“personal injury specialist” Warren] Johnson says.” (Libby Copeland, Washington Post, May 1). (DURABLE LINK)
May 3-4 — By reader acclaim: “Student sues over top title”. “A Moorestown [N.J.] High School senior, contending that the district superintendent is engineering new rules that would force her to share the title of valedictorian with another student, sued school officials yesterday. Blair L. Hornstine, 18, who aspires to be a lawyer, asked a federal judge to prevent the school from declaring valedictorian anyone other than the student with the highest GPA.” (John Shiffman, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2; Tanya Barrientos, “Student’s lawsuit shows lack of class”, May 3). Update May 13: Hornstine wins suit (DURABLE LINK)
May 1-2 — It ain’t heavy to him, he’s my brother. In September, according to the National Law Journal‘s “Verdicts and Settlements” column (Oct. 7, 2002, not online) a Texas jury awarded $134,000 to Jennifer Grobe, an employee of the Granite & Iron Store in Fredericksburg. “According to Grobe, she suffered two herniated lumbar discs when she lifted one of two 100- to 125-pound granite tables that the store’s owners had left in the entrance”. Why Grobe’s claim went to a jury in the form of a lawsuit, rather than to the workers’ comp system, is not clear from the context.
The bit in the NLJ‘s report that drew our attention was the following: Grobe’s suit alleged that her employer was negligent “for placing the tables in the entrance and for failing to comply with store policy by not having two male employees available.” Perhaps we’re missing something, but wouldn’t the employer have faced likely liability exposure if it had enforced a policy of “having two male employees available” to handle heavy deliveries? As any self-respecting sex-discrimination litigator would point out, such a policy closes off some work opportunities to women and trades on impermissible (no matter how generally accurate) stereotypes of men as wielding greater upper-body strength. (DURABLE LINK)
May 1-2 — Those litigious Americans. “An ad for Dutch brewer Heineken NV depicts lawsuit-happy Americans suing each other over spilled beer…The idea is that Heineken is so good it makes Americans abandon their litigious natures.” (Erin White, “National Lampoon: U.K. Ads Satirize American Demeanor”, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 28, online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)
May 20 — Suing ’til the cows come home. From a Forbes article on why the city of Fresno, Calif. and its surrounding Central Valley are so economically depressed: “Then there is the assault from the greenies. In Fresno’s surrounding counties, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment [a unit of the federally funded California Rural Legal Assistance — ed.] has used lawsuits to halt 125 new and expanded dairy projects since 1998, projects that would have increased the state’s milk cow population by a third.” (Lynn J. Cook, “Economic Death Valley”, Forbes, May 26). See also Larry Serpa, “Dairies can coexist with environment”, Visalia Times-Delta, Nov. 3-4, 2001; Michael Boccadoro, “Activist groups do more to cause poverty than cure it”, Dairy Business, Feb. 2002, both reprinted at DairyCares site. (DURABLE LINK)
May 20 — “A Grand Façade”. “[Few Americans] have any idea about what the grand jury is supposed to do and its day-to-day operation. That ignorance largely explains how some over-reaching prosecutors have been able to pervert the grand jury, whose original purpose was to check prosecutorial power, into an inquisitorial bulldozer that enhances the power of government and now runs roughshod over the constitutional rights of citizens.” (W. Thomas Dillard, Stephen R. Johnson, and Timothy Lynch, “A Grand Façade: How the Grand Jury Was Captured by Government”, Cato Institute Policy Analysis #476, May 13 (executive summary; full paper in PDF format)) (DURABLE LINK)
May 19 — Sauce for the gander dept. Texas: “A major criticism of class-action lawsuits is that the public often gets nothing but coupons while their lawyers wind up with millions of dollars. If a proposed law makes it through the Legislature, the lawyers may be getting coupons, too. Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, is proposing that lawyers who win class-action suits get the same thing that their clients get. If half the award to the clients is in coupons and discounts, the lawyers will get half their fees in coupons and discounts, too.” (Terry Maxon, “Bill would give attorneys same class-action payout as clients”, Dallas Morning News, May 5)(via Houston Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse). (DURABLE LINK)
May 19 — “Lawyers spoil fun”. Georgia: “Families and kids who found summertime fun and enjoyment each year at the Krystal River Water Park in Evans will have to find somewhere else to cool off in the months ahead. The park is closing up shop because its liability insurance costs jumped from $8,000 a month to a whopping $58,000 a month. Customers couldn’t possibly afford to pay the higher admission price park owner Ken Edwards would have to charge to offset the 700-percent premium increase.” (Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, May 11). (DURABLE LINK)
May 19 — “Law firms in tobacco suit seek $1.2b more”. Massachusetts: “As Beacon Hill grapples with a fiscal crisis, the lawyers who worked on the state’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry are demanding the state now pay them an additional $1.25 billion in legal fees. In recent court filings, four law firms, led by Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels of Boston, asked a Superior Court judge to enforce a contract that called for the lawyers to be given 25 percent of whatever proceeds Massachusetts received in the case. … The lawyers’ push to obtain more of the tobacco funds [on top of the $775 million they have already been awarded] has roiled the legal community in Massachusetts and nationally, with some worrying that the case will reinforce an image of avarice that dogs trial lawyers.” (Frank Phillips, Boston Globe, May 4)(see Jan. 2-3, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)
May 16-18 — Go ahead and have your Oreos (for now). The San Francisco lawyer who announced that he was suing Kraft/Nabisco (see May 13) now says he’s dropping the action and “only wanted to get the word out about the dangers of unlabeled fats contained in the popular black and white cookies. …[‘]Now everybody knows about trans fat.’ He expressed no remorse for using California courts as a publicity tool.” (Ron Harris, “SF lawyer says he’s dropping suit against Oreo cookies”, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, May 14). Bloggers Brian Peterson (May 13) and Timothy Sandefur (May 14) have their doubts about whether it’s actually consistent with legal ethics to file lawsuits in search of free publicity for causes, while George Mason University law professor David Bernstein, an old friend and collaborator of ours who’s just launched his own law blog, notes that (like it or not) lawsuits are often extraordinarily effective as bids for attention (May 15, archives busted, scroll down). Meanwhile the New York Times, which ran an “Editorial Observer” commentary favorable to the McDonald’s obesity suit (see Feb. 19), chimes in with an article presenting the Oreo affair exclusively from the plaintiff’s point of view, with not a syllable of dissent or skepticism about the suit’s merits (Marian Burros, “A Suit Seeks to Bar Oreos as a Health Risk”, New York Times, May 14). On the other hand, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown rejoices that he’s “found a way to finance my children’s college education. … I don’t intend to quit until I’ve eaten all 45 cookies in the package.” (“In search of the lethal dose of Oreo cookies”, May 14). (DURABLE LINK)
May 16-18 — After California bounty-hunting scandal, lawyers win again. When people talk about the trial lawyers’ controlling the California legislature, this is the sort of thing they have in mind. For several months editorial and public opinion in the state has registered outrage at lawyers’ use of the state’s broad unfair-competition law to extort cash settlements from thousands of small-business owners (see Jan. 15, Mar. 3). But “The attorneys, to the utter surprise of no one, emerged as victors in a showdown hearing of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Voting largely along party lines, in what was clearly a scripted scenario, the committee killed three bills that would have imposed some reforms on the unfair competition law — UCL, as it’s called — and approved a lawyer-backed substitute that contains only superficial changes and, if enacted, would actually make it easier to collect money in UCL cases.” The committee passed “a measure written by the personal injury attorneys lobby, Consumer Attorneys of California, [which] in conjunction with another lawyer-written measure in the Senate, would impose very mild new requirements on attorneys filing UCL suits, but it would also add a provision, called ‘disgorgement,’ that would allow more money to be obtained from UCL defendants and thus increase plaintiffs’ leverage. Recent state Supreme Court decisions had barred ‘disgorgement’ in UCL suits.” (Dan Walters: “Democrats side with lawyers over small-business owners”, Sacramento Bee, May 9). (DURABLE LINK)
May 16-18 — “Suit Seeks to Keep Elephant at L.A. Zoo”. “A woman has filed suit to stop the Los Angeles Zoo from sending its female African elephant, Ruby, to the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee, a move she said would break a longtime bond between the animal and a female Asian elephant, Gita.” (Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times, May 15) (see also SoCalLaw) (DURABLE LINK)
May 15 — Judge kicks class-action lawyers off case. “It was a stunning ruling by a federal judge exposing what she saw as lawyers trying to settle a big class-action lawsuit for their own benefit and with little regard for their clients. U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo last month booted six Chicago-area lawyers off a national class-action suit that accused H&R Block Inc. of cheating customers who took out tax-refund loans. In her ruling, she chastised the lawyers for doing little spadework to prove their case. The settlement fund was to be capped at $25 million for a potential class of 17 million people. The lawyers, whom she described as ‘inadequate,’ would have received $4.25 million.” (Ameet Sachdev, “Class-action reform pushed into spotlight”, Chicago Tribune, May 1; “Federal Judge in Illinois Rejects Settlement In Suit Against H&R Block Over Refund Loans”, BNA Class Action Litigation Report, Apr. 2; Mark Tatge, “A Pox on Both Houses”, Forbes, May 26). (DURABLE LINK)
May 14 — NTSB blames pilot error, but airport told to pay $10 million. “A Cook County jury awarded $10.45 million to the family of a pilot killed in 1996 when the executive jet he was at the controls of slid off the runway and burned at Palwaukee Municipal Airport. The pilot, Martin Koppie, 53, had been accused in earlier lawsuits of causing the crash that killed three other people.” The new verdict, on the other hand, throws $9.9 million worth of blame onto the municipalities of Wheeling and Prospect Heights, which own and operate the airport, for allegedly locating a drainage ditch too close to the runway. “In a 1998 report, the National Transportation Safety Board faulted Koppie for not aborting the takeoff and co-pilot Whitener for not taking ‘sufficient remedial action.’ In 2001, a Cook County jury awarded $18.9 million to Whitener’s family, who had argued that Koppie caused the crash and Chicago-based Aon Corp. was responsible as his employer.” (Michael Higgins, “$10 million award in ’96 plane crash”, Chicago Tribune, May 7). (DURABLE LINK)
May 14 — “Prosecutor had ordeal as defendant”. An assistant Massachusetts attorney general gets caught up in charges of sexual harassment that mushroom into criminal charges before eventually collapsing, not before turning his life and reputation upside down. “Exculpatory evidence that surfaced during [Michael] Atleson’s trial, prosecutors now say, cast serious doubt on the credibility of his accusers.” Despite Atleson’s acquittal and the withdrawal of other charges against him, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley has no apologies: “The system worked for Mr. Atleson”, he claims. Read the story and see whether you agree (Ralph Ranalli, Boston Globe, Apr. 14) (DURABLE LINK)
May 13 — Lawsuit’s demand: stop selling Oreos to kids. “Oreo cookies should be banned from sale to children in California, according to a lawsuit filed by a San Francisco attorney who claims that trans fat — the stuff that makes the chocolate cookies crisp and their filling creamy — is so dangerous children shouldn’t eat it. Stephen Joseph, who filed the suit against Nabisco last week in Marin County Superior Court,… [is a “public interest lawyer” who has also] formed a nonprofit corporation called BanTransFats.com, Inc.” (Kim Severson, “Lawsuit seeks to ban sale of Oreos to children in California”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 12). “Fast food restaurants are facing claims that hamburgers can be as addictive as heroin in the next twist to the obesity lawsuits that threaten McDonald’s and Burger King. John Banzhaf, the self-styled ‘legal terrorist’ who pioneered tobacco litigation in the 1960s,” contends that studies suggest that fat-laden food can produce the same sorts of changes in the brain as powerful drugs. (Simon English, “Burgers are ‘as bad as heroin’, activist claims”, Daily Telegraph (UK), May 9). More: Lance Gay, “Food industry balks at mandatory labeling”, Scripps Howard/Bremerton, Wash. Sun, May 9; “A Twinkie Tax”, CBS News, May 12. (& update May 16-18: suit dropped) (DURABLE LINK)
May 13 — Update: court installs valedictorian. “A high school student won sole rights to Moorestown High School’s valedictorian title Thursday when a judge ruled that she should not have to share the honor with two other students.” (see May 3-4) “U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson ordered the Moorestown district to name Blair L. Hornstine the valedictorian for the class of 2003.” (“Student Wins Valedictorian Lawsuit In Moorestown”, NBC10.com, May 9). Kimberly Swygert has a lot of commentary on the case at her No. 2 Pencil blog (May 9, May 2). (DURABLE LINK)
May 12 — Shouldn’t have let him get so drunk. Australia: “A Norlane man is suing Geelong Football Club for allowing him to get too drunk at a president’s lunch. …In Supreme Court documents seen by the Geelong Advertiser, Gregory Allan Clifford claims he consumed ‘excessive quantities of liquor’ supplied by the club at a president’s lunch about two years ago. Mr Clifford claims he fell down a set of stairs at the club function and severely injured himself. In the civil lawsuit against the club he claims the club should have exercised reasonable care to conduct the function in a way where people drinking were reasonably safe.” In a case that made considerable headway in the Australian courts before recently being dismissed, a woman sued a New South Wales rugby club for allegedly continuing to serve her alcohol although she was intoxicated; the “woman had claimed she was hit by a car while ‘wandering drunkenly’ 100 metres away from the club, the Supreme Court documents said.” (Natalie Staaks, “Cats sued”, Geelong Advertiser, May 8, no longer online) (via Brain Graze) (DURABLE LINK)
May 12 — Malpractice studies. Congress’s Joint Economic Committee publishes a new study finding that the medical malpractice litigation system performs poorly in both its major social roles: deterring medical negligence and fairly compensating the negligently injured. Reform including liability limits would offer substantial benefits that could include billions in annual budgetary savings to the federal fisc and improvements in medical care affordability that could permit millions of Americans to be priced back into the health insurance market. (Senior Economist Dan Miller, “Liability for Medical Malpractice: Issues and Evidence”, Joint Economic Committee, May (PDF format)). A similar study, focusing on Texas: Chris Patterson, Colleen Whalen and John Pisciotta, “Critical Condition”, Texas Public Policy Foundation, April (PDF format). In an April poll of Texas Medical Association members, nearly two-thirds of the 1,027 physicians responding “say the climate in which they practice medicine has forced them to deny or refer high-risk cases in the past two years.” (“Doctors forced to limit or deny patient care”, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Houston website, undated).
Although Massachusetts’s situation is not as bad as that as many other states, it is still seeing a departure of respected doctors from the liability-wracked field of obstetrics. “‘You start to think maybe this isn’t worth it,’ said Dr. Ronald Rubin, 41, of Shrewsbury, who gave up obstetrics after being sued and is now completing an anesthesia residency. ‘My case was dismissed, but I got deposed. It was six years of going back and forth and taking time off from work. It took a tremendous toll.'” (Liz Kowalczyk, “Insurance costs leave one less baby doctor”, Boston Globe, Apr. 27). And following a tripling of its insurance premiums, a 16-doctor radiologist practice in the Daytona Beach, Fla. area has announced that it intends to stop performing mammograms, which is particularly problematic since the practice currently performs the majority of the mammograms carried out in Volusia and Flagler counties. (“Radiologists say they’ll stop performing mammograms on June 1”, AP/Daytona Beach News-Journal, May 8)(see Nov. 2, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)
May 30-June 1 — “Judge Allows Lawyer to Add Shell Oil as Nightclub Fire Defendant”. Rhode Island: “Attorney Ronald Resmini, who sued for damages in federal court last month, said he added Shell Oil and its affiliate, Motiva Enterprises LLC, to his lawsuit because The Station nightclub owners distributed tickets to their club from a Shell gas station they owned. ‘They were giving away free tickets if you bought so much merchandise,’ Resmini said.” Lawyers’ quest for deep pockets has already resulted in the naming of brewer Anheuser-Busch and the town of West Warwick, among other defendants. (AP/MSNBC/7 News Boston, May 29). (DURABLE LINK)
May 30-June 1 — “Diet Drug Litigation Leads to Fat Fees”. “A federal judge in Philadelphia has awarded interim fees of more than $150 million to 83 plaintiffs’ law firms for their work in the massive fen-phen diet drug litigation that led to a $3.75 billion class action settlement. The interim fees are just a fraction of what the plaintiffs’ lawyers could ultimately earn, since it covers only work up to June 30, 2001. In their fee petition, the lawyers asked for $567 million.” (Shannon P. Duffy, The Legal Intelligencer, May 21)(see Sept. 27-29, 2002, and links from there). And, reports Texas Lawyer: “A group of Houston plaintiffs’ lawyers who were major players in fen-phen litigation in the late 1990s are now jumping into the ephedra arena and plan to use many of the tactics they learned in fen-phen suits in the new litigation.” Ephedra, an herbal remedy, promotes weight loss and energy but can have serious side effects. (Kelly Pedone, “Lessons Learned in Fen-Phen Suits Factor Into Ephedra Cases”, Texas Lawyer, Apr. 15)(see Sept. 10, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)
May 30-June 1 — “Buchanan & Press”. Viewers who tuned into the popular MSNBC debate show last night (Thurs.) saw our editor debate former ATLA president Barry Nace on the merits of Common Good’s “early offers” proposals for limiting lawyers’ contingency fees (see May 29) A full transcript is likely at some point to be posted here. (DURABLE LINK)
May 29 — Hold the gravy? Common Good, the reform organization headed by author Philip Howard, has launched a new campaign to limit the fees plaintiff’s lawyers can charge in cases that settle promptly. “The proposal would require plaintiffs’ attorneys to submit a notice of a planned lawsuit to defendants in contingency fee cases. If a settlement offer is made and accepted within 60 days of the notice, the attorney must charge an hourly rate that cannot exceed 10 percent of the settlement amount.” (Elizabeth Neff, “Plan Would Cap Contingency Fees”, Salt Lake Tribune, May 25). Petitions to this effect have been filed in recent weeks by lawyers working pro bono in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. (Daniel Wise, “Attorney Fees in Personal Injury Cases Targeted”, New York Law Journal, May 8; Adam Liptak, “In 13 States, a Push to Limit Lawyers’ Fees”, New York Times, May 26). (DURABLE LINK)
May 29 — Decorating for reconciliation. Okay, for a change, here’s a vignette that made us think maybe there’s hope for the profession: “Though hardly sentimental in the courtroom, Ms. Gold-Bikin [divorce attorney Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin of Philadelphia’s Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen LLP] says she often urges settlement and, even, reconciliation…. Coupons for free marriage-counseling sessions are set out on the coffee table. … ‘I’m a divorce lawyer who believes in marriage. So I started collecting old wedding photos and licenses. Then I found that if I put them up around the office, clients would have to walk past them and, hopefully, think twice about what they were about to do. There are plenty of marriages we’re never going to save. But there are a lot we can work on. Many people who come here shouldn’t be getting divorced. They’re just stuck, and I hope this makes them reconsider.'” (Nancy D. Holt, “The rite of matrimony”, CareerJournal.com (WSJ), May 15; also appeared in Wall Street Journal, May 14, as the “Workspaces” column). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28 — Vitamin class action: some questions for the lawyers. Last month “appeal court justices in San Francisco did something unusual: They mailed out a letter asking lawyers in a massive vitamin price-fixing class action to explain a few things. Why, the 1st District Court of Appeal wanted to know, are so many law firms involved? How did the number of coordinated cases grow by 12 in one six-month period? How many out-of-state law firms are involved? Which of the defendants previously entered guilty or no contest pleas to criminal charges?” At least fifty class action law firms nationwide are hoping to split a $16 million fee pot, but Oakland, Calif. attorney Larry Schonbrun, the nation’s best-known objector to class actions, says there’s “no reason why much fewer law firms could not have handled this case”. And: “This is a money machine. It’s feeding at the trough.” (Mike McKee, “Enriching the Record”, The Recorder, May 27). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28 — “Sex, God and Greed”. Forbes on the priest scandals and the associated “litigation gold rush” which could leave the Roman Catholic Church facing $5 billion in payouts. “The lawyers who are winning settlements from Catholic dioceses are already casting about for the next targets: schools, government agencies, day care centers, police departments, Indian reservations, Hollywood. … The lawyers are lobbying states to lift the statute of limitations on sex abuse cases, letting them dredge up complaints that date back decades.” (Daniel Lyons, Forbes, Jun. 9). Sidebars: “Battle of the Shrinks” (role of recovered memory in some cases); “Heavenly Cash” (questionable claims). Our editor weighed in a couple of years ago on the practice of lifting statutes of limitation. (DURABLE LINK)
May 27 — “State is suing ex-dry cleaners”. California Attorney General Lockyer is suing retired owners of Mom-and-Pop dry cleaners in the town of Chico under the federal Superfund law, accusing them of pouring dry-cleaning chemicals down their drains decades ago. “Bob and Inez Heidinger — he’s 87, has Alzheimer’s disease and is blind in one eye; she’s 83, has bone marrow cancer and needs shoulder surgery” — are being sued for $1.5 million on charges (which they deny) of disposing of PCE in such a manner between 1952 and 1974, when they sold the business. Also being sued is “Paul Tullius, a 57-year-old retired Air Force pilot, and his wife, Vicki, who own a warehouse that last housed a dry cleaner in 1972 — 16 years before they bought the building without knowing its entire history.” “This is the most draconian law you could ever imagine,” says Tullius. “…Can you imagine what that does to your life? I’m sort of thinking this isn’t the country I thought it was.” (Gary Delsohn, Sacramento Bee, Apr. 28). (DURABLE LINK)
May 27 — Courtroom assault on drugmakers. A week or two ago the New York Times somewhat belatedly discovered that trial lawyers have ginned up a large amount of well-organized litigation against pharmaceutical makers over alleged side effects. (Alex Berenson, “Giant drug firms may face lawsuits”, New York Times/Oakland Tribune, May 18). Some reactions: Derek Lowe (“Because That’s Where the Money Is”, Corante, May 16), Ernie the Attorney (May 18), MedPundit (May 19), MedRants (May 19), William Murchison (“Lawyers Who Make You Sick”, syndicated/TownHall, May 20) (the last of these via SickofLawsuits.org, a new health-focused site associated with the Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse tort reform groups). (DURABLE LINK)
May 24-26 — “‘Trial Lawyers Get Spanked'”. Our editor had an op-ed Friday in the Wall Street Journal celebrating the Florida appeals court’s striking down of the absurd $145 billion class action verdict in the Engle tobacco case. (Walter Olson, WSJ/ OpinionJournal.com, May 23). Other columns on the decision include Jacob Sullum, “Appealing Price”, syndicated/Reason.com, May 23, on the appeals bond issue; and George Will, “The States’ Tobacco Dilemma”, syndicated/Washington Post, May 23, on the hypocrisy of state governments. (DURABLE LINK)
May 24-26 — Hitting the jack-potty. “A city worker has hit the jack-potty. Cedrick Makara, 55, scored a $3 million jury verdict last week because he hurt his thumb trying to get out of the john of a Manhattan building where he works.” The building’s manager and owner are on the hook. The stall in question “had a missing doorknob. [Attorney Sheryl] Menkes said Makara reached his hand through a hole where the knob should have been and pulled the door toward him just as someone entering the bathroom pushed the door in,” causing him to injure tendons in his thumb and miss six months of work as a city claims examiner. (Helen Peterson, “He’s flush after $3M potty suit”, New York Daily News, May 21). More: Boots and Sabers comments on the case (May 25). (DURABLE LINK)
May 22-23 — Court overturns $145 billion Engle award. Not to say “we told you so” about yesterday’s Florida appellate decision reversing the tobacco-suit atrocity, but, well, we did tell you so back in 1999: “The smart money is betting last week’s Miami anti-tobacco jury verdict will be overturned on the issue of class certification — whether every sick Florida smoker should have been swept into a class suing cigarette makers despite vast differences among individuals on such issues as why they decided to smoke or quit.” We had more to say about the case, also in the Wall Street Journal, a year later (July 18, 2000), as well as on this site. The latest decision is on FindLaw in PDF format and a very fine decision it is indeed — if this keeps up, the Florida courts may start getting their reputation back (Manuel Roig-Franzia, “$145 Billion Award in Tobacco Case Voided”, Washington Post, May 21). (DURABLE LINK)
May 22-23 — Must be why the show has so many fans. Received recently from the publicity department at St. Martin’s Press, publisher of our editor’s latest book: “The Rule of Lawyers by Walter Olson will be a prop in the show, Sex and the City! It will be a prop in Miranda’s apt. thoughout the season. The pilot airs early June.” (DURABLE LINK)
May 21 — Update: McMahon’s mold claim worth $7 mil. “Entertainer Ed McMahon reaped a $7 million settlement from several companies he sued for allowing toxic mold to overrun his Los Angeles home and kill his beloved dog, a national mold litigation magazine reported”. (“McMahon Gets $7 Mln in Toxic Mold Lawsuit – Report”, Yahoo/Reuters, May 7)(see Apr. 25, 2002). Addendum: blogger Stu Greene writes, “I wonder if the Prize Patrol delivered one of those oversized novelty checks with balloons tied to it.” (May 21) (DURABLE LINK)
May 21 — Auto-lease liability: deeper into crisis. Honda has become the latest automaker to announce that it will stop leasing new cars to buyers in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island (see Mar. 12-14, 2003, Aug. 26, 2002). The problem is 1920s-era “vicarious liability” laws in those three states, fiercely guarded by the trial lawyer lobby, which expose leasing and rental car companies to unlimited personal injury claims when their customers get into accidents. Honda’s pullout follows withdrawals this spring by GM and Ford as well as by J.P. Morgan Chase, a major provider of auto financing in the Northeast. (“Industry report: Honda to stop leasing in 3 states”, Detroit Free Press, May 20 (scroll down); “American Honda Finance Corp. to Suspend All Leasing In Three States”, PR Newswire, May 19; “Auto lease fleece” (editorial), New York Daily News, Apr. 22 (scroll down); SaveLeasing.com; “Ford Blames Liability Law for Decision to Stop Leasing Cars in NY”, Insurance Journal, Apr. 7; Zubin Jelveh, “Leasing Companies Exit Left and Right”, Newsday, May 4). “More than $1.5 billion in such claims are pending in New York, said Elaine Litwer, legislative coordinator for the National Vehicle Leasing Association…. [Proponents of easing the law] received a big boost last month when the 75,000-member New York State Bar Association split from the trial lawyers and said the vicarious liability law was never meant to apply to leases and supported changes.” (Barbara Woller, “GMAC leaves New York’s auto leasing market”, Journal News (Gannett, Westchester County), May 1; John Caher, “State Bar, Trial Lawyers Part Ways on Tort Reform”, New York Law Journal, Apr. 8). More: Jun. 9, 2003; Sept. 5, 2004. (DURABLE LINK)
June 10 — Advertisement for “friendly” employee deemed discriminatory. In Bolton, England, a government job listing center has refused to accept an advertisement asking for a “friendly” applicant to manage a travel agency’s staff cafe. The travel agency’s manager said “we were told, ‘It’s discriminatory because some people may perceive that they are friendly even if you don’t’.” A spokeswoman for the government bureau that runs the job center service acknowledged that “somebody’s been a little over-zealous,” but also said: “We’ve got to be very careful when we get adverts so we don’t discriminate against anybody.” (“Jobcentre comes under ‘friendly’ fire”, BBC, Jun. 7). (DURABLE LINK)
June 10 — Profiling: a Democrat outflanks Ashcroft. On CNN last week, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein spoke frankly of the need for some measure of ethnic profiling in both air passenger security and intelligence gathering — a position that places her considerably to the right of Attorney General John Ashcroft and his colleagues in the Bush Administration, who continue to deny any such need. (Chris Weinkopf, “Sanity, not bigotry, calls for profiling”, L.A. Daily News, Jun. 9). (DURABLE LINK)
June 10 — Sin-suit city. In Las Vegas, ripples continue from the word that some lawyers and activists are eyeing the hometown industry as their nominee for Next Tobacco (“Organization: Casinos could be sued”, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jun. 6; see May 31, May 20-21). And on the food-suit front, a major British newspaper, the Independent, has claimed that corporate machinations make healthful and low-calorie foods simply unavailable to Middle Americans, an assertion that columnist Jacob Sullum calls “such an audacious misrepresentation that I don’t know whether to refute it or simply stand in awe.” (Andrew Gumbel, “Fast Food Nation: An appetite for litigation”, The Independent, Jun. 4 (profile of anti-tobacco and anti-food industry law prof John Banzhaf)(alternate site); Jacob Sullum, “Big fat lie”, Reason Online, Jun. 7). (DURABLE LINK)
June 7-9 — “Tough tobacco laws may not deter kids”. Now they tell us dept.: “Stopping kids from buying cigarettes has become a centerpiece of anti-smoking campaigns, but a new study finds that cracking down on merchants doesn’t prevent underage smoking.” (Jim Ritter, Chicago Sun-Times, Jun. 3; Caroline M. Fichtenberg and Stanton A. Glantz, “Youth Access Interventions Do Not Affect Youth Smoking”, Pediatrics, Jun.) (via MedPundit, Jun. 5)(see Sept. 16, 1999). (DURABLE LINK)
June 7-9 — “Legal Fight Over Chemical Leak Ends With Whimper”. “Attorneys who won $38.8 million in West Virginia’s first class action toxic tort case have agreed to settle for a fraction of that amount after a federal appeals court ruled their original victory was based on the testimony of a witness who did not know what he was talking about.” FMC Corp. will instead pay only $1.35 million, which “will cover about $500,000 in litigation expenses but nothing for fees”, according to the plaintiff’s counsel, attorney/author and former state chief justice Richard Neely. (Peter Page, National Law Journal, Jun. 4). (DURABLE LINK)
June 7-9 — Helmets for roller skaters. First it was motorcycles, then bicycles, and now the anti-fun brigade, in the form of the California state senate, has voted to extend mandatory helmet-wearing to riders of skateboards, non-motorized scooters and even roller skates. (“Senate OKs helmet law for skateboarders”, AP/Contra Costa Times, May 17). (DURABLE LINK)
June 6 — Airlines sued over alleged profiling. “Washington is in its third week of self-flagellation over why the U.S. government couldn’t prevent the Sept. 11 hijackers from commandeering four planes and slamming them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Meanwhile, with no sense of irony, the ACLU, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and some other groups are launching five separate lawsuits over cases of men being removed from airplanes. The ACLU is party to three of the suits.” (Jonah Goldberg, “Flying While Arab”, National Review Online, Jun. 5). The men were removed from planes or denied boarding in various incidents late last year after airline employees or co-passengers deemed them suspicious in behavior or appearance. “The airlines named in the suits are American, Continental, Northwest and United. Most of the companies responded strongly to the suits yesterday, denying allegations of prejudice.” (“Lawsuits Accuse 4 Airlines of Bias”, Washington Post, Jun. 5; Niala Boodhoo, “Rights Groups Hit Airlines with Post-Sept. 11 Suits”, Reuters/ Yahoo, Jun. 4).
Many opponents of passenger profiling (including, frequently, officials within the Bush administration) act as if it were flatly impermissible to apply even the slightest bit more scrutiny to young male Arab fliers with Muslim first names than to elderly Dutch nuns — a position that at least has the merit of bright-line clarity and consistency, however suicidal it could prove in practice. Curiously, the lawyers filing the latest suits seem to be taking pains to stake out a critique of profiling that is less absolutist and makes more concessions to the threats made manifest last Sept. 11. Thus Reginald Shuford, an ACLU lawyer based in New York, says his clients are resigned to a “higher level of scrutiny when they fly, more security checks” but suggests that further extra scrutiny becomes intolerable once fliers have “cleared all security checks [and are] sitting on the airplane”. (Why? He doesn’t say.) Even Ibish Hussein, of the American- Arab Anti- Discrimination Committee, acknowledges that it’s “a tricky situation” and says of refusals to fly passengers: “It’s understandable, but it’s not acceptable.” (Alexandra Marks, “New lawsuits aim to curb racism aboard airplanes”, Christian Science Monitor, Jun. 5). Despite this concessionary- sounding language, with its seeming recognition of the unavoidability of judgment calls and gray areas, at least three of the suits ask for the airlines to be subjected to punitive damages. See also Eugene Volokh, Volokh Conspiracy weblog, Jun. 4. (DURABLE LINK)
June 6 — Alexa “Editor’s Pick”. The editors of indexing service Alexa have selected various sites in the category of “Legal Reform”, with you-know-who leading the pack (June 5). This site’s front page clocks in at #94,327 in Alexa’s traffic ratings, a little ahead of Virginia Postrel (#103,177) and nipping at the heels of Matt Welch (#90,063) and Mickey Kaus (#78,754) — though we have no idea how reliable all these numbers are. Update: not very reliable at all, says Glenn Reynolds (Jun. 6) (DURABLE LINK)
June 5 — “Remove child before folding”. “Americans are not losing their minds, but they are afraid of using their minds. They are afraid to exercise judgment — afraid of being sued.” Not-to-be-missed George Will column ties together overprotective playgrounds, fear-of-asbestos verdicts, demoralized obstetricians and public employee tenure and tips the hat to author Philip Howard’s new organization Common Good, which intends to call public attention to legal excess on a regular basis (Washington Post, June 2). In April, Common Good released the results of its first study, in association with the AEI-Brookings Joint Center, on defensive medicine: “Concerns about liability are influencing medical decision-making on many levels. From the increased ordering of tests, medications, referrals, and procedures to increased paperwork and reluctance to offer off-duty medical assistance, the impact of the fear of litigation is far-reaching and profound.” (“The Fear of Litigation Study: The Impact on Medicine”, AEI-Brookings Joint Center Related Publication, April (abstract), (full text, PDF format) (DURABLE LINK)
June 3-4 — Australian party calls for banning smoking while driving. The Australian Democrats, a small but non-fringe political grouping, have called for a ban on smoking cigarettes while driving. “If using mobile phones is illegal, so should cigarette smoking in cars because of its capacity to distract drivers,” said party official Sandra Kanck in a statement. “Ms. Kanck called for legislation to also ban smoking cigarettes in vehicles transporting children. ‘Parents and other adults shouldn’t subject young people to the carcinogenic dangers of side-stream smoke in cars, yet it is common to see this happening,’ she said.” (“Democrats call to ban smoking while driving”, AAP/West Australian, May 31; see Oct. 5, 2001, Dec. 29, 1999). And although anti-tobacco campaigners are crowing about a recent court verdict in Australia against British American Tobacco, blogger “Max Power” (May 23) suggests the verdict may reflect one judge’s idiosyncratic view of company document retention obligations. (DURABLE LINK)
June 3-4 — Penthouse sued on behalf of disappointed Kournikova-oglers. Dignity of the law dept.: The skin mag has already paid to settle the legal claim of a woman whose topless images it mistakenly ran as those of Anna Kournikova, and “now Miami, Florida lawyer Reed Stomberg has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of himself and every other male who purchased the June issue. Stomberg explains, ‘The sole reason I paid the $8.99 was for the alleged Anna pictorial. I bought it for a friend of mine, not to say I didn’t take a quick peek at the pictures.'” (IMDB People News, May 30) (& welcome WSJ Best of the Web readers). (DURABLE LINK)
June 3-4 — Sue foodmakers for obesity? Of course! In response to its publication (see May 27) of an article critically examining the push for class actions against purveyors of calorie-laden foodstuffs, Salon draws a big sack of mail from its readers, including a couple of amusingly hysterical attacks on author Megan McArdle (May 31). (DURABLE LINK)
June 3-4 — “Top Ten New Copyright Crimes”. Satire making the rounds on what could soon land you in trouble if ideas of creators’ rights continue to proliferate: “10. Watching PBS without making a donation … 9. Changing radio stations in the car when a commercial comes on. … 7. Getting into a movie after the previews, but just in time for the main feature. … 5. Inviting friends over to watch pay-per-view.” (Ernest Miller, LawMeme, May 2 & May 8). (DURABLE LINK)
June 3-4 — Sick in Mississippi? Keep driving. Malpractice-suit crisis, cont’d: “You are driving through Mississippi and you develop a serious pain in your side. What do you do? If you are smart, you keep on driving until you reach the border.” (Dick Boland, “Sue your way to the morgue”, Washington Times, May 25; see Apr. 5) Evidence that he may not entirely be joking: Ed Cullen, “Natchez doctors eye Vidalia”, Baton Rouge Advocate, May 19 (doctors in Natchez, Miss. consider transferring practices to Vidalia, La., across the river). (DURABLE LINK)
June 19-20 — Supreme Court clarifies ADA. This term the Supreme Court handed down four decisions interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act, in each case rejecting expansive readings of the law. Our editor analyzed the three employment cases in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (Walter Olson, “Supreme Court Rescues ADA From Its Zealots,” Wall Street Journal, Jun. 18 (online subscribers only)). See also David J. Reis and Dipanwita Deb Amar, “U.S. Supreme Court in ‘Echazabal’ Puts Federal, State Disability Laws in Line”, The Recorder, Jun. 17) (even California employment law, nearly always more favorable for employees than its federal counterpart, acknowledges that employees may refuse to employ disabled workers in jobs that endanger their safety). (DURABLE LINK)
June 19-20 — Judicializing politics (cont’d). Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), active in the 1998 battle over impeachment of then-Pres. Clinton, “has filed suit in a Washington federal court against the former president, Clinton loyalist James Carville and politically active pornographer Larry Flynt seeking compensatory damages ‘in excess of $30 million’ for ‘loss of reputation and emotional distress’ and ‘injury in his person and property’ allegedly caused by these three — who Barr claims conspired to ‘hinder [the plaintiff] in the lawful discharge of his duties.'” Barr is being represented by Larry Klayman of the famously litigious organization Judicial Watch (see Apr. 16-17). (Lloyd Grove, “Bob Barr’s Believe It or Not”, Washington Post, Jun. 13). (DURABLE LINK)
June 19-20 — To run a Bowery flophouse, hire a good lawyer. What with New York City’s absurdly anti-landlord rental code and the ongoing predations of publicly funded legal services groups, “it takes a tough lawyer to run a decent flophouse.” (John Tierney, “A Flophouse With a View (on Survival)”, New York Times, Jun. 11). Tierney, whose columns have been a highlight of the Times‘ Metro section, is moving to Washington to cover that city for the paper. (DURABLE LINK)
June 19-20 — “Suits Against Schools Explore New Turf”. Sexual harassment suits are on the rise, suits demanding concessions for special education students are already well-established, and although many states’ laws give schools some protection against personal-injury suits, “attorneys are finding creative new ways to get around the roadblocks”. (Alan Fisk, National Law Journal, Jun. 11). (DURABLE LINK)
June 17-18 — No “flood” of Muslim or Arab discrimination complaints. After the terrorist attacks last fall some major media outlets reported that state and local civil rights agencies were being flooded with complaints of discrimination by Muslims and persons of Arab descent. Notwithstanding a widely publicized recent suit against airlines for alleged misdeeds in passenger security profiling (see Jun. 6), the official numbers on other types of discrimination cases “tell a less alarming story. While there certainly was a hike in such bias claims since September, it’s hard to say that the increase was serious or even statistically significant.” (Jim Edwards, “Post-Sept. 11 ‘Backlash’ Proves Difficult to Quantify”, New Jersey Law Journal, Jun. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
June 17-18 — Spitzer riding high. In the New York Times Magazine, James Traub profiles New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, currently enjoying a wave of favorable publicity after negotiating a settlement in which Merrill Lynch agreed to change its analyst policy and fork over money to the states; Spitzer’s efforts to bludgeon the national gun industry into accepting unlegislated gun controls, however, have been markedly less successful. Quotes this site’s editor (James Traub, “The Attorney General Goes to War”, New York Times Magazine, Jun. 16). On abusive litigation by AGs, see the recently published analysis by Cumberland law prof Michael DeBow, “Restraining State Attorneys General, Curbing Government Lawsuit Abuse” (Cato Policy Analysis No. 437, May 10). On the federalism angle, see Michael S. Greve, “Free Eliot Spitzer!”, American Enterprise Institute Federalist Outlook, May-June. Plus: Boston Globe columnist Charles Stein on the trouble with policymaking by prosecution, also quotes our editor (“Memo to Policy Makers: Make Policy”, Jun. 16). (DURABLE LINK)
June 17-18 — Jury nails “The Hammer”. Rochester, N.Y.: “A state Supreme Court jury nailed personal-injury lawyer James ‘The Hammer’ Shapiro with a $1.9 million judgment Tuesday in a legal-malpractice case. Jurors found that Shapiro, best known for flamboyant television commercials in which he promises to deliver big cash to accident victims, mishandled the case of client Christopher Wagner, who was critically injured in a two-car crash in Livingston County. They also found that Shapiro’s advertising, which led Wagner to him, was false and misleading. … Wagner’s lawyers, Patrick Burke and Robert Williams, said the award should chasten Shapiro, who gleefully refers to himself as ‘the meanest, nastiest S.O.B. in town’ in his commercials.”
After suffering a severe auto crash which left him in a coma for a month, Wagner “hired Shapiro after his brother saw one of Shapiro’s TV commercials. Wagner dealt with a paralegal and never met a lawyer from Shapiro’s firm until after he agreed to a $65,000 settlement.” The jury found that the law firm had negligently failed to press Wagner’s case against the other motorist, instead accepting from that motorist’s insurer a settlement which undervalued the case and was insufficient to pay Wagner’s medical bills. “Shapiro, whose firm of Shapiro and Shapiro is based in Rochester, didn’t attend the trial. He testified by a videotaped deposition in which he admitted that he has never tried a case in court, leaves the legal work to subordinates and lives in Florida.” (Michael Ziegler, “Award claws ‘The Hammer'”, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Jun. 12)(link now dead). Shapiro is also known for his role in websites entitled Million Dollar Lungs (asbestos client recruitment) and CPalsy.com (“Your child’s cerebral palsy may be the result of a mistake. Don’t Get Mad, Get Even”). See also Dec. 5, 2003. Update May 24, 2004: court suspends Shapiro from practice in New York for one year. (DURABLE LINK)
June 17-18 — Not worth the hassle? “Home Depot Inc., the nation’s largest hardware and home-improvement chain, has told its 1,400 stores not to do business with the U.S. government or its representatives.” Most managers in the chain surveyed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said “they had received instructions from Home Depot’s corporate headquarters this month not to take government credit cards, purchase orders or even cash if the items are being used by the federal government. … One Home Depot associate at a store in San Diego said, ‘It feels weird telling some kid in uniform that I can’t sell him 10 gallons of paint because we don’t do business with the government.'” Although the Atlanta-based chain is close-lipped about the reasons for its policy, companies that sell more than nominal quantities of products or services to the federal government risk being designated as federal contractors, a status that brings them under a large body of regulation over their practices in employment and other areas. (Andrew Schneider, “Home Depot stops doing business with federal government”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jun. 16). Update Jul. 1-2: company reverses policy. (DURABLE LINK)
June 17-18 — Alamo’s stand. “Alamo Rent A Car had no ‘duty to warn’ a Dutch couple visiting Miami not to drive into high-crime areas of the city, lawyers for the company told a three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal Wednesday in an effort to overturn a $5.2 million jury verdict. Lawyers for Alamo told the judges that there is no way their client could have known that the couple would venture into Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, where Tosca Dieperink was shot to death as she sat in the rental car in 1996.” We last covered this story Jun. 29, 2000, at which time we wondered: how many different kinds of legal trouble would Alamo have gotten into if it had warned its customers to stay out of the toughest urban neighborhoods? (Susan R. Miller, “Car Rental Agency Fights $5.2M Verdict for Slain Tourist”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jun. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
June 14-16 — “Civil Rights Agency Retaliated Against Worker, EEOC Rules”. Do as we say dept.: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the federal agency which claims for itself the role of public watchdog on discrimination matters, unlawfully retaliated against its former staff solicitor, Emma Monroig, after she filed a discrimination complaint against it in 1995. The commission, which has a staff of about 75, has been hit with nine recent EEOC complaints from employees, of which at least three have been settled. (Darryl Fears, Washington Post, Jun. 13). (DURABLE LINK)
June 14-16 — Dealership on the hook. “A Michigan auto dealership that failed to complete the title transfer on a car involved in a fatal accident has been hit with a $12 million jury verdict.” In July 1999 Les Stanford Oldsmobile in suburban Troy allowed Mohammad Bazzi, then 20, to drive away his newly purchased 1996 Camaro convertible although the paperwork to transfer title was not complete. Bazzi was supposed to return to sign the papers, but never made it: two days later, driving intoxicated at an estimated 100 mph on I-75 at 2:30 in the morning, he smashed the car into the rear of a slower moving truck, killing his 18-year-old passenger, Ronny Hashem. Hashem’s survivors sued the dealership citing Michigan’s 70-year-old Owner Liability Statute, “which holds the owner of a car liable whenever the car is being operated consensually”. (Peter Page, “High-Speed Death”, National Law Journal, Jun. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
June 14-16 — Batch of reader letters. Readers take issue with our coverage of a Canadian court’s ruling on welfare reform (we stand accused of citing a conservative columnist) and of the recent suit against a baseball-bat maker by a teenager hit by a line drive; offer a different perspective on the Audubon String Quartet litigation; and track down the drunk driving defense law firm that has trademarked the phrase “Friends don’t let friends plead guilty”. (DURABLE LINK)
June 13 — Breaking news: slaying at Texas law firm. 79-year-old Richard Joseph Gerzine of Vidor, Tex. is in custody following a fatal shooting at the offices of the prominent Beaumont plaintiff’s firm of Reaud, Morgan & Quinn, known for its role in the asbestos and tobacco controversies. The victim was senior partner Cris Quinn. The perpetrator was said to have been angered by the law firm’s refusal to represent him in an asbestos case. (Beaumont Enterprise, Jun. 13; AP/Houston Chronicle, Jun. 13). (DURABLE LINK)
June 13 — “Student gets diploma after threatening lawsuit”. “A threatening letter from her lawyer and an opportunity to retake an exam hours before graduation helped a West Valley high school student get her diploma last month. … On May 22, Stan Massad, a Glendale attorney representing the Peoria family, faxed a letter to [English teacher Elizabeth] Joice asking her to take ‘whatever action is necessary’ for the student to graduate or the family would be forced to sue. ‘Of course, all information regarding your background, your employment records, all of your class records, past and present, dealings with this and other students becomes relevant, should litigation be necessary,’ he wrote to the teacher.” (Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor, Arizona Republic, Jun. 10; lawyer’s letter; teacher’s response; Joanne Jacobs, Jun. 12).
UPDATE: The case has mushroomed into a cause celebre in Phoenix (Arizona Republic coverage: Maggie Galehouse, “Decision to allow Peoria student to graduate draws outrage”, Jun. 12; “State Bar probes threat against teacher over student’s graduation”, Jun. 13; “Failing your classes? Get a better lawyer”, (editorial), Jun. 11; “Pathetic plight in Peoria” (editorial), Jun. 12; Benson cartoon, Jun. 11; Richard Ruelas, “Lawyer made an offer school couldn’t refuse”, Jun. 12). In the blog world, see Thomas Vincent, Jun. 11 and later posts; Edward Boyd, Jun. 11 and later posts; DesertPundit, Jun. 13. And InstaPundit and “Max Power” discuss issues of whether the lawyer might face bar discipline and why the family members have been allowed to keep their names confidential. More update: Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor, “Peoria district issues an apology for furor”, Arizona Republic, Jun. 15. (DURABLE LINK)
June 13 — “The NFL Vs. Everyone”. “Why is it that football players/owners/teams are in court all the time? And why would the Broncos sue fans? The NFL is a great case study in litigiousness gone haywire.” (Dan Lewis, dlewis.net, Jun. 12; see “NFL Bootleg: Making the Court Circuit”, Bootleg Sports/FoxSports, Jun. 12). Lewis’s blog also calls our attention (Jun. 11) to this article explaining one remarkable implication of new “medical privacy” laws: “Law May Forbid Leagues to Say if Player Is Hurt” (Buster Olney, New York Times, Jun. 11 (reg)) (DURABLE LINK)
June 13 — He’s at it again. It seems Kevin Phillips has published another of his awful books. Here’s what we said about one of the earlier ones. (DURABLE LINK)
June 11-12 — “French ban sought for Fallaci book on Islam”. The true meaning of hate-speech laws? In France, an “anti-racist” group has filed a legal action demanding a ban on the publication of a new book by outspoken Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci criticizing Islamic fundamentalism and defending the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (Reuters/MSNBC, Jun. 10)(& welcome InstaPundit readers). (DURABLE LINK)
June 11-12 — Malpractice crisis latest. More problems with the notion of suing our way to quality medical care: Philadelphia’s Jefferson Hospital, citing rising malpractice insurance bills, has laid off 99 workers and eliminated 80 vacant jobs. (Linda Loyd, “Jefferson Hospital cuts 179 positions”, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 21). Brandywine Hospital, which operates the only trauma center in Chester County, Pa., said it would temporarily close its center, with the result that “trauma patients — the most severely injured accident victims — will be diverted to trauma centers at hospitals in surrounding counties.”. It blamed malpractice costs for difficulty in recruiting qualified physicians (Josh Goldstein, “Hospital closing trauma center”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jun. 5). The closure of a Wilkes-Barre ob/gyn practice typifies the forces driving doctors out of Pennsylvania, according to the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (M. Paul Jackson, “Frustrated doctors look to quit area”, May 1). The supply of neurosurgeons in central Texas is likewise under pressure, resulting in the family of an accident victim’s “being told a city of Austin’s size had no spine surgeon available when they desperately needed one”. (Mary Ann Roser, “Neurosurgeons in short supply”, Austin American-Statesman, May 19). Update: Francis X. Clines, “Insurance-Squeezed Doctors Folding Tents in West Virginia”, New York Times, Jun. 13). (DURABLE LINK)
June 11-12 — Flash: law firm with sense of humor. This one’s been around for a while, but we’ve never paid it due tribute: Denver’s Powers Phillips maintains the only law firm website we’ve seen that’s laugh-out-loud funny (and even manages to tell you a lot about the firm) (& update:Metafilter thread). (DURABLE LINK)
June 11-12 — “San Francisco Verdict Bodes Ill for Oil Industry”. Oil refiners are unhappy about a recent verdict in which a West Coast jury declared that the gasoline additive MTBE, which has a nasty tendency to seep into water tables, is defective and should never have been marketed. The refiners have contended that the federal government itself pushed the industry into adding MTBE to gasoline by way of the Clean Air Act’s 1990 amendments, which mandated the use of reformulated and oxygenated gas to reduce air pollution. At least two earlier courts did accept that defense, but now the industry may stand exposed to potential billions in damages. (June D. Bell, National Law Journal, May 3). Background: Energy Information Administration, “MTBE, Oxygenates, and Motor Gasoline” (Mar. 2000). (DURABLE LINK)
June 11-12 — Welcome “Media Watch” (Australia). On the Australian Broadcasting Corp. program, which monitors the press, Steve Price traces the circulation of the much-forwarded “Stella Awards”, a list of (fictitious, invented) outrageous lawsuits (see Aug. 27, 2001) (June 10). (DURABLE LINK)
June 28-30 — Lawyer’s 44-hour workday. “Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine is investigating charges a lawyer routinely billed the state’s child welfare agency for more than 24 hours’ work a day on uncontested adoptions.
“According to records obtained by Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy, Joyce Britton had a busy week in April 2001: On Monday, April 9, she worked 34 hours. On Tuesday, she worked 44 hours. On Wednesday it was 29; 33 on Thursday, 25 on Friday, 42 on Saturday. … Britton billed the agency $862,000 for fiscal years 2000 and 2001. The second-most-active attorney handling uncontested adoptions billed $285,000.” (Abdon M. Pallasch, “Did adoption lawyer really work 44 hours in one day?”, Chicago Sun-Times, Jun. 25). (DURABLE LINK)
June 28-30 — Tobacco settlement funds go to tobacco promotion. An investigation by the Charlotte Observer finds that of the $59 million that the state of North Carolina has spent so far in proceeds from the tobacco settlement, nearly three-quarters — “about $43 million — has gone toward production and marketing of N.C. tobacco”. (Liz Chandler, “N.C. spends settlement on tobacco, not health”, Charlotte Observer, Jun. 23) (via Andrew Sullivan — scroll to third item). (DURABLE LINK)
June 28-30 — Ambulance driver who stopped for donuts loses suit. Sad news for the hero of our Nov. 2-4 item: “A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former ambulance driver who claimed he was wrongfully fired after stopping for doughnuts while transporting a patient to a hospital.” Larry Wesley “stopped for doughnuts in July 2000 while he was taking an injured youth to Ben Taub Hospital” and was fired after the boy’s mother complained. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal “ruled that Wesley’s claims that other employees received lesser sanctions were not supported by the record, and he also failed to show that he was treated more harshly than other drivers.” (“Judge dismisses lawsuit filed by ambulance worker fired for doughnut stop”, AP/KRTK Houston, Jun. 27). (DURABLE LINK)
June 28-30 — More on gambling as next-tobacco. The Newark Star-Ledger‘s take; quotes our editor (Judy DeHaven and Kate Coscarelli, “Gaming Industry Could Be Next Target of a Big Tobacco-Type Lawsuit”, Newhouse News Service, Jun. 24)(see May 20-21). (DURABLE LINK)
June 27 — Pledge marathon. Even Justice William Brennan seemed to recognize that it tends to damage the good name of religious unbelief to associate it in the public mind with theories of hair-trigger unconstitutionality which encourage running to court over the most minute details of official ceremony. See Eugene Volokh (multiple posts); “One Nation Under Blank” (editorial), Washington Post, Jun. 27; Megan McArdle (and reader comments); Walter Dellinger, “Logically Speaking, the 9th Circuit Doesn’t Exist”, Slate, Jun. 27; David G. Savage, “9th Circuit just following form”, L.A. Times/ Houston Chronicle, Jun. 26. Update: also see columns by Steve Chapman, “Coming to terms with our Constitution”, Chicago Tribune, Jun. 30; Jonathan Foreman, “The real pledge problem”, New York Post, Jul. 1. (DURABLE LINK)
June 26-27 — “Win Big! Lie in Front of a Train”. Per a case summary in a recent New York Law Journal, “A State Supreme Court jury in Manhattan had awarded $14.1 million to a woman who was hit by an E train. The accident occurred on May 3, 2000, in a subway tunnel just north of the 34th Street station on the Eighth Avenue line. … What was she doing in that strange place to begin with? It seems the woman, then 36, had entered the tunnel and lain down on the tracks. The police concluded later that she was trying to kill herself. She denied it, though she also said she could not remember how she had ended up there.” No wonder the Bloomberg administration is pushing municipal tort reform (Clyde Haberman, New York Times, Jun. 25)(see also Oct. 23, 2001, Dec. 17, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)
June 26-27 — Asbestos: saving the Crown jewels? “In a decision that is sure to grab the attention of the asbestos personal injury bar, a Philadelphia Common Pleas judge has dismissed Crown Cork & Seal as a defendant in 376 pending asbestos cases. Judge Allan J. Tereshko found that Philadelphia- based consumer packaging company Crown Cork & Seal qualifies for relief under a new Pennsylvania law that limits the successor liability of asbestos defendants whose liability results only from merging or acquiring companies that produced asbestos products. Under the law, the company must be incorporated in Pennsylvania prior to May 2001 and must show that its liabilities in asbestos lawsuits have equaled or exceeded the ‘fair market value’ of the company whose acquisition resulted in the successor liability.” (Shannon P. Duffy, “Pennsylvania Court Upholds Law Limiting Asbestos Liability”, The Legal Intelligencer, Jun. 13)(see Jun. 27, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)
June 26-27 — “Ex-Teach’s Suit: Kids Abused Me”. Sued if you do, sued if you don’t dept.: trial is set to start today in Brooklyn “in a ground-breaking lawsuit filed by a former special education teacher who charges he was harassed by students. … Vincent Peries, who is from Sri Lanka, says students at Francis Lewis High School in Queens mimicked his accent, tossed paper balls at him,” and made fun of his ethnic background. “School officials don’t deny Peries was harassed — but argue that they can’t discipline special ed students for slurring a teacher. ‘This is because students with that classification have already been identified as having behavioral problems, and the verbal misconduct might be considered a manifestation of their disability,’ city lawyer Lisa Grumet wrote in court papers. Special ed students can be suspended only for incidents involving physical violence, drugs or a dangerous weapon, according to Board of Education regulations.” (John Marzulli, New York Daily News, Jun. 25)(& welcome Joanne Jacobs readers) (& update Jul. 24; city settles with him for 50K). (DURABLE LINK)
June 26-27 — “‘Vexatious litigant’ vows he’ll keep coming back”. Portrait of a Texas frequent litigant who’s filed more than twenty lawsuits over the past two years, against a list of defendants that includes more than a dozen judges and assorted other officials. Among factors working in his favor, aside from our general lack of a loser-pays rule: “pauper status” rules providing for the waiver of filing fees, and a lack of cross-checking that might allow the clerk in one county to learn that Mr. O’Dell is under a court order handed down in another county to petition for approval before filing any more suits in the state. (Lisa Sandburg, San Antonio Express-News, Jun. 24). (DURABLE LINK)
June 24-25 — Reparations roundup. Someone should start a weblog devoted to reparations links, it’d be easy to fill:
* In the fall of 2000, ABC’s “20/20” and New York Times reporter Barry Meier distinguished themselves by collaborating on a devastating exposé of “personal injury lawyer Edward D. Fagan, [who] recreated himself four years ago as [a] media-savvy figure behind huge lawsuits on behalf of Nazi victims” as the Times‘s abstract puts it. The investigation (to quote ABC) “found serious questions being raised about this so-called savior, now accused of ignoring and neglecting some of the very clients he had promised to help”. ABC interviewed well-known legal ethicist Stephen Gillers, who spoke in startlingly blunt terms of his opinion of Fagan’s client-handling record (“I think it’s despicable”; “This is client abuse, in my view, and it should not be allowed to continue”.) As for Fagan’s allegedly pivotal role in developing the WWII claims, “‘We essentially worked around him,’ says New York University law professor Burt Neuborne. ‘I mean, he was, he was there, but, but he played, if I tell you zero, I mean zero role in developing the legal theory, in presenting the legal theory, and in participating as a lawyer,’ says Neuborne.” (Brian Ross, “A Case of Self-Promotion?”, ABCNews.com, Sept. 8, 2000; Connie Chung, Sam Donaldson and others, “The Survivors” (transcript), ABCNews “20/20”, Sept. 8, 2000; Barry Meier, “An Avenger’s Path: Lawyer in Holocaust Case Faces Litany of Complaints”, New York Times, Sept. 8, 2000 (abstract leads to fee-based archive); Barry Meier, “Judge Warns Lawyer to Pay Past Penalties”, Sept. 13, 2000 (same)).
But credulity springs eternal — at least in those portions of the press not industrious enough to do a Google search or two to check out the background of a lawyer re-emerging into the headlines. Last week, Fagan was all over the papers announcing that he was going to file reparations suits against Western corporations on behalf of victims of the late apartheid regime in South Africa. Britain’s Observer swallowed his pitch whole, bannering its article “Lawyer who championed those who suffered in the Holocaust fights for South Africa’s oppressed” and calling Fagan the “American lawyer who won compensation for Holocaust victims”. We’re sure that would come as news to Prof. Neuborne. (Terry Bell, “Apartheid victims sue Western banks and firms for billions”, The Observer, Jun. 16).
* On New York’s Niagara Frontier: “Thousands of Grand Islanders were thankful and relieved Friday after a federal judge ruled that the Seneca Indians do not own the land beneath their homes, businesses and public buildings”. U.S. District Judge Richard C. Arcara ruled that not only did the Seneca tribe relinquish any legal claim they might have had to the relevant tracts of New York state way back in 1764, but “there is no archaeological evidence that the Senecas ever actually set foot on the Niagara Islands.” But landowners on the island are nowhere near achieving clear title to the properties they once thought they owned, since the Senecas vow to appeal. (Dan Herbeck and T.J. Pignataro, “Sigh of relief”, Buffalo News, Jun. 22).
Meanwhile, litigation by other tribes continues to wreak havoc across a wide swath of New York State (see Nov. 3-5, 2000 and links from there). Last fall another such case ended with a federal judge’s ruling in favor of the Cayuga tribe, which 200 years ago sold the 64,000-acre tract to the state in violation of the U.S. Trade and Intercourse Act. The verdict was $36.9 million to which the judge added $211 million in interest for a grand total of $247.9 million, considerably below the $2 billion that the tribe’s lawyers had been asking for, a request that had reflected the tendency of a sum starting off long enough ago to grow to the sky through the miracle of compound interest. (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “200-Year-Old Land Dispute Nets $247.9 Million”, National Law Journal, Oct. 17). See also John Caher, “New York State May Be Solely Liable for Indian Land Claims”, New York Law Journal, Apr. 2 (suit by Oneidas “demand ‘ejectment’ of the City of Syracuse”). Update Jun. 29, 2005: Second Circuit panel throws out Cayugas’ suit and damage award as inconsistent with recent Supreme Court decision in City of Sherrill.
* Ah, the healing and emollient qualities of the reparations movement, which holds out the promise of putting racial frictions finally behind us: “A new Mobile Register – University of South Alabama survey shows that while 67 percent of black Alabamians favor the federal government making cash payments to slave descendants, only 5 percent of white Alabamians agree. Among the supporters is J.L. Chestnut, a black Selma lawyer who is part of a national legal team preparing to file reparations litigation. … ‘In five years of polling in Alabama, I have never seen an issue that was so racially polarizing,’ Nicholls [Keith Nicholls, the University of South Alabama political science professor who oversaw the survey] said. He added that the mere mention of reparations and an official U.S. government apology for slavery — another issue addressed in the poll — caused many white respondents to get so angry that they had trouble completing the interview.” (Sam Hodges, “Register-USA poll: slavery payments a divisive question”, Mobile Register, Jun. 23). (DURABLE LINK)
June 21-23 — “Trolling for litigation on eBay”. Via Ernie the Attorney: “Someone bought a packaged cheese stick that supposedly had a human hair. They want to sue, and have posted the following description of the item bid for on Ebay: ‘You are bidding on the opportunity to represent us in a civil proceeding. Naturally, our discovery of this apparently tainted product has traumatized us, and we may never be able to truly enjoy cheese (or other dairy products, or other processed foods, or other food for that matter) ever again. We reserve the right to review winner’s qualifications upon auction end. Winner must be a licensed attorney.” Before you ask, no, we don’t know whether the person who posted the auction is serious or not, though our guess is that they’re not. Update 20:45 EDT Friday: it looks as if the eBay authorities have removed the auction. It was discussed by users on eBay Forums (Jun. 21). (DURABLE LINK)
June 21-23 — Tobacco fees: a judge gets interested. Here’s one to watch closely: a Manhattan judge may finally be getting ready to delve into some of the ethical questions raised by the 1998 tobacco settlement, or at least the $25 billion portion of it that covers New York state. The judge “has asked the New York attorney general’s office and several law firms to justify $625 million in attorney fees awarded” as part of New York’s settlement with the tobacco industry (see May 11, 2001). “Citing unspecified ethical concerns, Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Ramos ordered state lawyers and attorneys from six firms that represented the state to explain why the fees should not be set aside. One ground for vacating the fees, the judge said, could be that the arbitrators who awarded them may have ‘manifestly disregarded well established ethical and public policies.’ Ramos suggested that the court had the power to not only ask a new panel of arbitrators to determine reasonable fees, but to vacate the entire $25 billion settlement, approved by another judge in 1998, if such action was warranted. He also said the issue could be referred to the Departmental Committee on Discipline and require the outside firms to produce time sheets detailing their roles in the litigation.” (Tom Perrotta, “New York Judge Cites Ethics Concern Over Tobacco Case Fees”, New York Law Journal, Jun. 20). (DURABLE LINK)
June 21-23 — 11th Circuit reinstates “Millionaire” lawsuit. “A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit alleging that ABC discriminates against disabled people trying to become contestants on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire.’ The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the lawsuit contained a valid claim that the show’s qualifying system, which uses touch-tone phones, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.” (see Nov. 7, 2000; Brian Bandell, “Lawsuit Reinstated Against ABC Show”, AP/New York Post, Jun. 19; Susan R. Miller, “Disabled Floridians Get Shot at ABC’s ‘Millionaire'”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jun. 21). (DURABLE LINK)
June 21-23 — Welcome Grouse.net.au readers. We’re picked as link of the day on this Australian site for June 21. Also for Jun. 21, we’re Mr. Quick’s “Link of the Day”. Among blogs sending us visitors lately: Tres Producers, Flyover Country, Aaron Haspel’s God of the Machine, Hollywood Investigator, Bob Owen of the Twin Cities, Ross Nordeen, Ravenwolf, Jon Garthwaite’s TownHall C-Log, Junkyard Blog, Now You Listen to Me Little Missy, and many others, as well as the links page of premier Cathblogger Amy Welborn. (DURABLE LINK)