“It’s refreshing to find a show that can demonstrate to litigation-happy America that it’s possible, even desirable, to amicably resolve disputes without going to court.” [Radley Balko, Reason, on USA Network’s “Fairly Legal”] More: Abnormal Use interview with show creator Michael Sardo (via its update).
“It is hoped that the new mediation stage will reduce legal aid costs by up to £100 million, while fewer expert witnesses would be required to testify before the courts. … Judges would also be able to advise parents early into legal proceedings what the likely outcome would be, in an effort to force through an agreement and avoid long and expensive cases. ” [Telegraph]
Welcome to Blawg Review #220, rounding up some highlights of the past week from around the legal blogosphere. It’s my second time hosting it here at Overlawyered, a blog that as its name implies maintains a certain critical distance from many of the doings of the legal profession. Despite (or because of?) that, lawyers make up a large share of our most loyal and valued readers. Overlawyered just celebrated its tenth anniversary, which so far as I know (though someone may come along to prove me wrong) makes it the oldest blog about law.
In addition to being a blogger, I’m an author of books (The Litigation Explosion, The Excuse Factory, The Rule of Lawyers) as well as many articles and shorter pieces, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, the think tank in New York City. Joining me in occasional posts is American Enterprise Institute resident fellow Ted Frank (who’s just launched a promising new venture called the Center for Class Action Fairness; his objection in a Bluetooth class action settlement won coverage in the NLJ on Friday) and even more occasionally by David Nieporent. Ted contributes a portion of this Blawg Review which is indented below.
Torts, Liability and Trial Practice
The week’s most widely blogged story, well documented by Above the Law, is a South Florida lawyer’s “Motion to Compel Defense Counsel To Wear Appropriate Shoes” at a personal injury trial, from fear that his opponent would employ a certain pair of hole-worn loafers to practice the arts of aw-shucksery on the jury. A mistrial resulted after press coverage of the motion came to the attention of jurors.
In other news, the Wall Street Journal law blog reported on the New York Yankees’ settlement with a fan who sued over not being allowed to get up and move about during the performance of “God Bless America”. Kevin Underhill at Lowering the Bar has the story of a Pomona juror who was really eager for deliberations to finish up so he could attend the Michael Jackson memorial, and wonders if the case was resolved unusually speedily that day.
On the plaintiff’s side, Steve Gursten of Michigan Auto Lawyers charges that the city of Detroit discourages the issuance of traffic tickets to its bus drivers as one way of dodging liability in subsequent accident cases where the driver’s record of violations could be used against the city. John Hochfelder at New York Injury Cases Blog says a lawsuit against the city subway system on behalf of a grossly drunk patron who tried to board between train cars is the sort of action that brings litigation into public disapprobation and might even fuel interest in relatively far-reaching reforms, like loser-pays. And Tennessee’s John Day catches a noteworthy automotive preemption case: “The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has ruled that a products liability claim was preempted by FMVSS 205, a safety standard that it says permits vehicle manufacturers to make a choice between tempered glass and laminated glass in side windows. … The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reached the opposite result in O’Hara v. General Motors Corp., 508 F.3d 753 (5th Cir. 2007).”
At Citizen Media Law, Andrew Moshirnia reports on a defamation lawsuit filed by a northern Illinois newspaper against a blogger: “That’s right, a newspaper (the Jeffersonian protectors of democracy) and a blogger (saving the world one lolcat at a time) are duking it out, each trying to out chill the other’s speech.”
The defense-side post of the week comes from the Beck & Herrmann team at Drug & Device Law. Mark Herrmann takes a big-picture look at how pharmaceutical product liability law has evolved over the past quarter century, and in particular how well it has done in pursuing the goal of appropriately screening out meritless cases. He gives the law a grade of “A” or thereabouts in tackling dubious expert testimony (with the Daubert revolution), in preventing the unwarranted extension of class action concepts from financial-injury cases to the realm of personal injury, and — a much newer development — in introducing serious scrutiny of claims at the pleading stage through the Supreme Court’s recent Twombly and Iqbal decisions. He is also relatively pleased with trends on preemption (despite the widespread view that defendants have suffered a decisive rebuke on that front) and on resistance to novel theories of action. On the other hand, he gives the courts a “D” on their handling of discovery and its burdens, and a grade of “F” when it comes to their overall inability to reduce the amount of litigation.
Emergency room doc/blogger White Coat has been serializing a first-person account of his malpractice trial; you can read parts eleven and twelve, bearing in mind that you’re coming in partway through the story. (The trial has concluded, but he’s not yet revealing how it ended.)
Stephanie West Allen at Idealawg, picking up on a discussion in Plaintiff magazine, says to watch out for how the other side is likely to retell your story: that way you won’t be surprised when the other side’s lawyer gets up at trial to claim the wolf was framed while portraying the scarlet-clad Miss Hood as the most heartless femme fatale since Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. And if you’re headed for alternative dispute resolution, Nancy Hudgins can tell you “A secret about mediators“.
In the News
Alas, in today’s wounded economy bankruptcy law is a standout practice area. In the case of General Motors, however, the process has gone far more quickly than most expected. John Wallbillich at Wired GC reflects on the giant automaker’s egg-timer reorganization: “The joke around Detroit is that GM went through bankruptcy in less time than it took outsiders pre-filing to get a response to voicemails and schedule a meeting.” On the consumer side, BankruptcyProf Blog (via Carolyn Elefant, Legal Blog Watch) reports that bankruptcy filings in the Central District of California have risen sharply over the year, up more than fifty percent from 5,999 in January to 9,578 in June. The year-over-year increase since the first half of 2008 is 45 percent.
Disgraced lawyer Marc Dreier is due to be sentenced this week for some of the worst defalcations laid to the account of an American lawyer in many a year; Peter Henning has commentary at the WSJ Law Blog. At a newly launched blog called Unsilent Partners, two well-known figures in the blogosphere, Colin Samuels of Infamy and Praise and Mike Semple Pigott of Charon QC, discuss recent white-collar criminal sentencing, the point of departure being federal judge Denny Chin’s sentencing of Bernard Madoff to a 150-year term.
The week’s biggest upcoming legal story is likely to be the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and I’ll turn the floor over to colleague Ted Frank for some remarks on that:
The Sotomayor nomination continued to be a notable topic in the legal blogosphere this week. Jennifer Rubin noted that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, sharing Judge Sotomayor’s position favoring race-based preferences, had thrown his support behind her nomination. Meanwhile, Eric Turkewitz’s previous investigation of the judge’s “Sotomayor and Associates” law practice and the ethical implications of her choice of firm name was picked up by the New York Times, albeit (as he and Scott Greenfield both noted) without any recognition of Turkewitz’ key role in bringing this issue to light. Greenfield criticized the Times: “make no mistake about it. [Turkewitz] is the source of the New York Times story, and the absence of his name, and his blawg, in the piece is a shoddy reflection of its journalistic integrity. Don’t ask the blawgosphere to love you when you won’t love us back, boys.” But Windy Pundit defended the Times. Turkewitz found the Administration’s explanations and justifications of Sotomayor’s choice to be unpersuasive; some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee may as well, and they’ve been in contact with Turkewitz. Beldar’s reaction to the Associates flap: Meh. The WSJ Law Blog looks at the “meticulousness” characterization of Sotomayor. Stuart Taylor has a must-read blog post on how the Sotomayor panel almost succeeded in burying the Ricci case through its summary order; having failed to bury the case, Sotomayor’s supporters are making personal attacks on Ricci, who will be testifying at Sotomayor’s hearing, himself. Heather Mac Donald calls for tough questioning of Sotomayor about Ricci. If you plan on attending the hearing, watch what you wear. The Federalist Society is sponsoring an on-line debate on the nomination that includes lawyer-bloggers Tom Goldstein and Ed Whelan. And Jonathan Adler asks questions about that 1100-professor-petition in favor of Sotomayor’s nomination.
Allegations of egregious racial discrimination at the swimming pool of a northeast Philadelphia club are making news and seem likely to break out before long as a national story. Max Kennerly of The Beasley Firm tells the story and analyzes its legal implications here and here, while Jon Hyman recalls memories of growing up near the club.
Finally, the Scruggs judicial scandals may have faded from the national headlines in the past year but in Mississippi they’re still very much an unfolding story. Tom Freeland at North Mississippi Commentor continues to track developments.
Advice for clients
Week in and week out, one of the functions legal blogs fulfill is to advise clients and prospective clients on when to use lawyers and what to expect when using them. Thus Hingham-based Danielle Van Ess explains what estate planning does and who needs it at her blog on Massachusetts wills, trusts and estates law. At South Carolina Family Law, Ben Stevens offers a list of Facebook “don’ts” for divorcing couples, which might usefully be read in conjunction with Lawyerist’s advice on how to subpoena Facebook pages. Of course cutting through the hype is important, which is why potential clients susceptible to being impressed by “Super-Duper-Lawyer” awards and commendations might want to check out Brian Tannebaum’s amusing discovery that “in Gainesville, Florida, apparently two Super criminal defense lawyers are prosecutors”. Whoops!
Perhaps the week’s most buzzed-about employment law case came from Hartford where veteran political reporter Shelly Sindland filed a sex and age bias complaint against Tribune Co.’s Fox 61, charging that execs at the TV station rewarded female on-air talent on the basis of bodily attractiveness rather than conventional journalistic criteria. Daniel Schwartz at his Connecticut employment law blog took a relatively sober look (and followup), but given its mature content this was a story destined to wind up at Above the Law, which gave it the full treatment.
Employees’ sometimes-imprudent talk both on the job and off continues to provide steady fodder for employment law decisions and controversies. Doug Cornelius discussed a New Jersey decision on whether and when an employer can read an employee’s email to her lawyer sent from a company-owned laptop. At Employee Rights Post, Ellen Simon discussed a recent Ninth Circuit case in which a school employee got in trouble for inflammatory online remarks. And Jon Hyman at Ohio Employer’s Law wonders how employers are supposed to avoid what has been called a “sexualized work environment” offensive to some employees when the popular culture seeping in to the workplace from all sides is often itself highly sexualized, a topic that has come up in these columns as well.
Commercial, business and tax law
Unincorporated Business Law Blog brings word of a bill being introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to crack down on state-incorporated “shell” corporations. Corporate law specialist Larry Ribstein of the University of Illinois writes, “The motivation for this piece of legislative detritus seems to be that since a tiny percentage of LLCs are being used for criminal activity let’s wreck LLCs for all firms. Hey, sounds sensible to me.”
In other news, Peter Pappas awarded his “Rick Moranis Awards” for the best tax nerd blogs. Kevin LaCroix at D & O Diary has an update on the rising tide of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement activity. Charon QC conveys a bit of gossip about the questionable contract terms prescribed by a well-known U.K.-based real estate firm. And Ken Adams at Adams Drafting advises that if contract-drafting seems like a boring and unrewarding part of your work day, you’re probably not doing it right.
Finally, this unsettling observation from Dan Harris at China Law Blog: “If you owe money to a Chinese company for product and you cannot pay all of your creditors, skip out on the Chinese company. Near as I can tell, there is nearly a 100% chance they will never sue you to recover.”
Intellectual property law
The Pope issued an encyclical earlier this month which, notes Cal Law Legal Pad, included the following statement: “On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care.” If the pontiff wasn’t upset by the story of the Mexican yellow bean patent recounted by Patently-O, it’s probably because he hadn’t heard of it. Speaking of moral authority, The Prior Art takes GOOD magazine to task for according a glowing profile to a systematic asserter of patent license rights whom some might belittle as Totally Reliant On Litigation Leverage, and suggests the magazine missed a chance to evaluate the gap between what might be remunerative legal-business strategy and what is beneficial to society. For a more upbeat view of the value of patents in spurring innovation since colonial days, Gary Odom at Patent Hawk offers a short history of patents in America.
Finally, I blogged last week about the lawsuit filed by Pez against a Pez museum that some fans had set up in California’s San Mateo County, but Ron Coleman at Likelihood of Confusion was funnier about it.
Legal issues of new media
Remember the unsuccessful suits by companies upset to discover that when Google users searched on their firm’s name, AdWords would serve them an ad for some competitor? Ryan Gile at Vegas Trademark Attorney thinks Mary Kay Cosmetics faces an “uphill battle” in a new suit against Yahoo (over mouseover search popups in email) that raises some similar issues. And Venkat Balasubramani raises the question whether Twitter has been lax, or clever, or both, in letting various other entities use Twitter-related words and phrases in their own names and promotions.
At gamelaw blog Law of the Level, Shawn Foust discussed how online games can protect the integrity of their online currencies from thefts, at least until a corps of “Space Prosecutors” can be formed. And Eugene Volokh brings news from Michigan of one of the first, if not the first, libel lawsuits arising from Wikipedia edits. It seems to raise garden-variety rather than novel issues, though, and is not filed against Wikipedia itself.
In the U.K., Justice Minister Jack Straw has announced a second round of family-court reforms. Lucy Reed at Pink Tape is anything but enthusiastic about some of the “de-lawyerizing” aspects of the proposals. John Bolch at Family Lore comments as well, and separately notes “that Conservative think tank the Centre for Social Justice will recommend that there be a compulsory three-month ‘cooling off’ period before divorce proceedings can be commenced, one of a number of proposals contained in a report Every Family Matters, to be published [July 13].” Presumably coincidentally, here in the U.S., Solangel Maldonado at Concurring Opinions considers whether current divorce laws unduly steer couples toward ending marriages rather than working through difficulties: “Given society’s interest in marriage and all of the negative consequences of divorce, should law incentivize couples to repair the marriage after infidelity? … many couples do reconcile after separation. Maybe they would not have done so had they been able to seek a divorce immediately.”
“Father Shall Not Use Profanity or Racial Epithets in the Boys’ Presence or Within Their Earshot”. Eugene Volokh wonders about the free speech implications.
It being July, law schools are relatively quiet on the student front, but certainly not on the faculty front. Hackles have been rising over the NYU law school’s selection of Li-Ann Thio for a visiting spot in human rights law, given that in her native Singapore Thio crusaded against rights for gays. [Above the Law]. Jane Genova at Law and More covers a judge’s threatened sanctions against Harvard lawprof Charles Nesson for posting deposition excerpts online from a case in progress in which he is helping defend music downloaders. And although Ave Maria Law School is not a part of the Roman Catholic Church, it is asserting church autonomy as a defense to a suit filed by several former faculty members; Howard Wasserman at Prawfsblawg and Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice discuss.
Many would have nominated law schools as a nearly recession-proof sector of the economy, but that’s turned out to be wrong, what with bleak prospects for many new graduates and sometimes plunging endowments at parent institutions. Famed UCLA lawprof Stephen Bainbridge asks “Is Law a Mature Industry?” and examines the implications for legal education (do we really need at least ten new law schools, as are on the drawing board now?), while the Canadian site Law21.ca wonders whether the demographics of an aging world mean that we can “say goodbye to a lot of law schools“.
State of the blawgosphere
There’s nothing like a discussion of the state of blogs to get people going. At Crime and Federalism, Mike Cernovich thinks legal blogs have gone downhill since he got online: things have grown cliquish, and the “biggest – and worst – change to the legal blogosphere has been the Rise of the Marketers,” the ones who are intent on promoting their firms and practices but don’t have anything in particular to say. If bloggers get cliquish, notes Robert Ambrogi, it’s only human nature: “With too many blogs to choose from, we tend to stick with those we know and find comfort with.”
Have you ever considered turning the best bits of your blog into a book? Join the club. Evan Schaeffer at Legal Underground shows how to make a convincing case for that kind of transformation.
Finally, if you’re looking for an old-fashioned blogger dustup complete with asperity and risk of hurt feelings, Scott Greenfield is feeling snappish toward Adrian Dayton and several others on a variety of topics that include Generation Y, social media and work/life balance (Greenfield’s basically against the latter: “When the going gets tough, no one needs a lawyer who leaves the office whenever they have something more fun to do.”) Diane Levin suggests room for accommodation, which however is not forthcoming.
Need a break from contentiousness? Check out Scott Kreppein’s pictures of the Bronx County courthouse, a building that boasts marmoreal, heroic bas-relief sculptures in what I believe is the early-FDR-period style referred to as “Greco-Deco“.
For a view of American law from Central and Eastern Europe, Bruce MacEwen at Adam Smith Esq. interviews Tomasz Wardynski of a large Warsaw law firm. At Arbitration Forum, Kenneth Cloke tells “Why We Need to Mediate [International] Environmental Conflicts“. Cynthia Alkon at ADR Prof brings word that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the African nation of Liberia released its report this week. Chris Borgen at Opinio Juris reports on the possible disintegration of Belgium (Flanders is thinking of pulling out). Is the EU actually going to hasten the breakup of some of its ethnically diverse member states? Charon QC decides to find out how easy it is to pry information out of private British law schools. And proving that the U.S. is not always in the forefront of colorful litigation, a Polish mother has sued saying that her 13-year-old daughter came back pregnant from an Egyptian resort because of, er, male-related contamination of the hotel’s swimming pool. Michael Krauss has the story at the Manhattan Institute law blog Point of Law (disclosure: I’m its editor and also blog there).
Many thanks to Colin Samuels and Victoria Pynchon for their helpful suggestions on links to use. H. Scott Leviant will be hosting Blawg Review #221 at The Complex Litigator next week. Blawg Review has information about that, and instructions how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues. [Edited 1 pm Monday to remove one link at the request of its site]
- You are cordially invited to a fishing expedition for lawsuits over energy drink/alcohol mixes. RSVP: Center for Science in the Public Interest [Balko, Reason “Hit and Run”]
- Recent Overlawyered guestblogger Victoria Pynchon mediates an ADA claim against a Long Beach motel owner. Extortion? Fair compromise? Both? Neither? [Settle It Now, scroll]
- 19-year-old Ciara Sauro of Pittsburgh is disabled, in medical debt, and waiting for transplant, crowning touch is the $8,000 default judgment RIAA got against her for downloading 10 songs [Ambrogi]
- “It does not take a graduate degree to understand that it is unacceptable to hide evidence and lie in a deposition” — Seventh Circuit sanctions Amtrak worker for dodgery in workplace-injury suit [Ohio Employers’ Law; Negrete v. Nat’l Railroad Pass, PDF]
- New Richard Nixon tapes: “I can’t have a high-minded lawyer … I want a son-of-a-b—-.” [Althouse]
- Aramark suit documents unsealed: girl paralyzed by drunk driver got $25 million in suit against New York Giants stadium beer vendor [AP/Vineland, N.J. Daily Journal, earlier]
- New York high court bounces Alice Lawrence/Graubard Miller fee suit back to lower courts, says more info needed [NYLJ, earlier]
- Couple claims retention of $1,075 rental security deposit was racially motivated, seeks $20 million [WV Record; Martinsburg, W.Va.]
Guest Post by Victoria Pynchon
A sexual harassment defendant settles the case for $1.3 million. Not satisfied with the usual “no admission of liability” clause found in most settlement agreements, Mr. Harasser insists on an adjudication of NON-liability as a condition to paying the $1.3 million.
Here’s how the parties work it:
As part of the settlement, the harassment dispute will be “arbitrated” based on stipulated facts. The defendant will have sole discretion in the selection of the “arbitrator” and will pay the entire fee. The stipulated facts are, essentially, “defendant is innocent and plaintiff is wrong.”
Not only does the settlement agreement set forth the stipulated facts for the “arbitration,” it also dictates the arbitration award, word for word (essentially “the defendant is innocent and the plaintiff is wrong), and then spells out the press release that will follow the “arbitration,” that the defendant was totally vindicated in the lawsuit by a defense award (leaving out, of course, the part about paying $1.3 million to the plaintiff).
With me so far?
A fake arbitration to be followed by a false press release…and then the defendant pays the $1.3 million.
This is pulling a fast one on the public and a perversion of the justice system since the fake arbitration award would inevitably be followed by an uncontested entry of judgment based on the arbitral award.
Were I the defendant, I would be pretty careful to select an arbitrator who I knew would go along with this, like my [hypothetical] sociopathic uncle. I certainly wouldn’t select a former judge and one of the State’s top private jurists.
But, what do I know. In this case, the defendant with the unilateral right to select the arbitrator for this “arbitration” selected a former San Francisco judge sitting on the prominent JAMS panel, Daniel Weinstein.
To no one’s surprise except maybe the defendant, the plaintiff didn’t show up for the “arbitration.” Why should she? Based on the stipulated facts, she already “lost” the “arbitration.” For reasons that are not fully explained in the subsequent legal opinion, but probably because Weinstein is smart and ethical enough to know a rat when he sees one running across his conference room table, Weinstein refused to participate in the sham proceeding.
As the defendant, what would you do now? I’d probably pay the $1.3 million and call it a day. Because the case had not been dismissed, the court called the parties in to see what was going on. The plaintiff said she wanted to enforce the settlement. The defendant said the plaintiff breached the settlement agreement by not showing up to the “arbitration,” and that the settlement agreement had a real arbitration provision so that any dispute over the agreement had to be arbitrated (the old fashioned way). The trial court read the settlement agreement for the first time, and then denied the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration.
Now would be a good time to pay up and move on. There’s been no publicity and no public disclosure of this bizarre effort to fool the press and public with a sham arbitration proceeding. But no. This defendant decided to appeal the denial of the motion to compel arbitration, making everything public.
Sure enough, the appellate court issued an opinion, not officially published but available on the web for the world to see at http://www.onpointnews.com/docs/charney2.pdf, in which this entire fake arbitration process is shared with readers like you and me.
Here you have an effort to create a false record for the purpose of issuing a misleading press release to fool the public into believing the defendant was exonerated. It’s certainly fraud but is it actionable by anyone? And because the attempt was foiled by this new Darwin Awards winner, no harm was ever done.
We praise the ethical decision of JAMS neutral Daniel Weinstein in refusing to join in this attempt to use JAMS, and eventually the Courts, to perpetrate a public fraud. Is there any question that an arbitrator who would go along with this sham would be violating his/her professional responsibilities (not to mention undermining JAMS’ sterling reputation)?
But where is the judicial outrage? In the appellate court opinion, none of the justices took the defendant to task. There is no indication that the trial court was shocked or concerned by the possibility that it was overseeing a settlement whose goal was to defraud the public.
The “A” in ADR does not mean “A”nything goes in the pursuit of expedited calendars. It is alternative, not anarchic.
[editor’s note: see also Nov. 16 (American Apparel’s view of episode)]