Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’

February 8 Roundup

  • New Jersey Supreme Court won’t touch appellate court reversal of $105M dram-shop verdict against Aramark Corp. Not noted in our earlier coverage: Aramark was held liable as a deep pocket through illegitimate piercing of the corporate veil, adding yet another problem to an appalling series of problems with the trial. [New Jersey Law Journal; earlier on Overlawyered; Point of Law]
  • Half-trillion-dollar class certified against Wal-Mart in lawless Ninth Circuit decision. [Point of Law]
  • Court papers show direct link to Lerach in Milberg probe. Most entertaining: a letter by Lerach saying “Dr. Cooperman’s reputation and character are impeccable.” Cooperman has since pled guilty to taking kickbacks, and Milberg Weiss now says he has no credibility. [National Law Journal; WSJ Law Blog]
  • Slip and fall worth $5.7M [Atlantic City Press]
  • Cardiologists doing Brazilians: “Graduating med students aren’t blind; they see established physicians with busy practices dropping out. Looking ahead they see more headaches–more controls and regulations, more scrutiny, more liability, less money.” [TIME via Kevin MD]
  • Florida law may allow men to get out of paying fraudulent paternity when DNA shows they’re not the father. [Miami Herald; see also Parker v. Parker; earlier on Overlawyered]
  • Editorial: Alabama Supreme Court ruling on illegal multi-billion-dollar punitive damages award in Exxon contract dispute can prove state is no longer tort hell. [Press-Register]
  • Update to earlier Overlawyered post: Danny Cuesta pleads guilty, sentenced to fifteen months; Melissa Cuesta, whose claim we covered, arrested for perjury, pleads not guilty. [ via Teacher trash blog]
  • Incomes and inequality: what the numbers don’t tell us. [Marginal Revolution]
  • India and the drug patent wars. [AEI]
  • I (along with John Beisner, Michael Hausfeld, and John Stoia) am speaking on a panel on the Class Action Fairness Act at the National Press Club February 14. [Federalist Society]

Notable quote

“We cannot permit federal lawsuits to be transformed into amorphous vehicles for the rectification of all alleged wrongs” — a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit (Chief Judge James Edmondson and Judges James Hill and Phyllis Kravitch), refusing to declare Alabama’s property tax system an unconstitutional cause of racial segregation in its institutions of higher education. (Tom Gordon, “Appeals court says tax system doesn’t segregate”, Birmingham News, Feb. 1; “Ruling backs state in higher-ed case”, AP/Montgomery Advertiser, Feb. 2).

Worst judges, cont’d

On Jan. 5 we linked a story about an Alabama lawyer who faces serious disciplinary action because he collected a $1.2 million fee for writing a will for a dying man without in fact meeting the man; after the controversy had arisen, voters elevated him to the bench. Now, in North Carolina, authorities are wondering what to do about Judge James Ethridge, “stripped [by the state bar] of his law license in October after deciding he had swindled an ailing, older woman of her home and life savings while he was a lawyer in 2001. …Without a law license, Ethridge is barred from holding court and signing orders. But he is not barred from keeping the job,” in which he has presided over criminal and family cases arising in Johnston, Harnett and Lee counties. “The predicament is getting expensive. …The state may be forced to pay Ethridge’s annual salary of $101,376 until his term as judge ends in December 2008” and in the mean time taxpayers are shelling out for substitute judges to hear the cases. (Mandy Locke, “Disbarred judge can’t hold court but holds onto pay”, Raleigh News & Observer, Jan. 9).

Update: Per Dr. Mary Johnson in comments, Ethridge has resigned.

Alabama: a case of ethically failing upward?

“The state bar ordered that Stuart DuBose’s law license be suspended because of his role in an estate in which he collected a $1.2 million fee for writing a client’s will without ever meeting the dying man.” And DuBose faces a possibility of even sterner disciplinary action, such as a longer suspension or even disbarment, because the “Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the 45-day suspension wasn’t sufficient punishment for his actions.” However — and this is the part that really makes the story so perfect — DuBose is not exactly hurting professionally at the moment because voters in November elected him to be the circuit judge for Choctaw, Clarke and Washington counties despite publicity over the allegations. Although his official term does not begin until Jan. 15, he has already been sworn in. According to one newspaper account, disciplinary action could affect his ability to serve as judge. (“Jackson attorney still under ethics cloud takes oath early”, AP/, Dec. 23; Jim Cox, “Area lawyers once against, now for DuBose judgeship”, Clarke County Democrat, Dec. 14; Evan Carden, “DuBose takes oath to be circuit judge”, Clarke County Democrat, Dec. 28).

November 14 roundup

  • Plaintiffs’ lawyers and Clinton appointee damage, almost kill the entire pension system. [Point of Law] Earlier: POL Aug. 8.
  • Another view of the elections on liability reform. [National Law Journal]
  • Second verse, same as the first: illegitimate Wal-Mart class action (Jul. 22, 2004 and links therein) being repeated against Costco, presumably other retailers to follow. [Point of Law; Wall Street Journal]
  • “I can see why, if you’re sitting in a roomful of lawyers, you might come to that conclusion. But no one outside of that room would say: ‘Hey, that’s a good idea. Let’s sue Daniel Moore.’” U of Alabama sues locally famous artist and alum for using school colors in painting famous Alabama football moments. [NYT; Lattman]
  • Roundup of links as Illinois Justice Bob Thomas’s attempt to squelch public criticism goes to the jury. [Bashman]
  • Silver v. Frank, Round III. [Point of Law]
  • Ninth Circuit illegitimately overturns another death sentence; Supreme Court reverses for the second time. [Ayers v. Belmontes; SCOTUSblog; Daily Pundit; NY Times; WaPo]
  • Chief Roberts on Nightline. [ABC News; Prawfsblawg via Bashman]
  • Sam Peltzman interviewed on podcast. [Econtalk]

Election watch: Sue Bell Cobb in Alabama

Sue Bell Cobb in Alabama is the trial lawyers’ choice in the upcoming election for Supreme Court Justice. Jere Beasley (a regular on Overlawyered) has used 22 different PACs to ship nearly half a million dollars her way. (See also Apr. 28, 2005 for similar machinations.) Skip Tucker of Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse has more details in today’s Anniston Star. (“Voters should consider history in court race”, Oct. 15). Trial lawyers previously supported Tom Parker in his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination against current Chief Justice Drayton Nabers (POL Jun. 7), leaving Nabers with half as much to spend on television advertising as Cobb—but, of course, the only complaints about money in this election come from groups opposed to the money the Chamber of Commerce is spending in the hopes of having honest candidates on the bench. (E.g., this press release).

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t files: Putnam Hospital

Osteopath John King (who now calls himself “Christopher Wallace Martin” in his Alabama practice after surrendering his West Virginia and Texas medical licenses) had a poor record in numerous previous jobs in numerous states, but West Virginia’s Putnam County Hospital, the only acute-care center in the county, wasn’t able to find that out because the former employers were afraid of being sued. King lasted a few months at Putnam before he was dismissed for incompetence after an investigation, and King responded by suing Putnam and the independent expert who testified against him at a private peer review (as well as the newspaper that reported on his problems). Meanwhile, trial lawyers engaged in a feeding frenzy, filing dozens of lawsuits for tens of millions of dollars against the deep pocket (and some against each other), creating enough adverse publicity that Putnam lost nearly half of its business, and was on the verge of shutting down tomorrow before a last-minute deal to save the hospital was negotiated. Martha Montelongo has an overview in the August 17 Human Events Online. (Lawrence Messina, AP/Charleston Daily Mail, Aug. 28; Chris Dickerson, “Druckman sues former clients over work on King cases”, West Virginia Record, Aug. 8; Lawrence Messina, “W. Va. Hospital Says Lawsuits Drive Conversion to Urgent Care Center”, AP/insurance Journal, Aug. 7; Chris Dickerson, “Putnam General blames impending closure on trial lawyers”, West Virginia Record, Aug. 1).

Court Quashes Suit Under ADA Regulation

Can you be sued based on an obscure regulation drafted by bureaucrats that expands the reach of an already broad statute? The First Circuit Court of Appeals thought not in its ruling yesterday in Iverson v. City of Boston. Disagreeing with the Tenth Circuit, it held that lawsuits can’t be brought under Justice Department regulations expanding the reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring self-evaluation and transition plans, since having such plans is not always necessary to comply with the ADA’s statutory requirement that the disabled receive reasonable accommodations.

It chided the Tenth Circuit for failing to follow the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in Alexander v. Sandoval, which held that regulations expanding the reach of Title VI’s statutory ban on intentional racial discrimination to include unintentional discriminatory effects on minority groups were not enforceable through lawsuits, and thus rejected a challenge to Alabama’s English-language requirement for drivers’ licenses, which allegedly had the unintended effect of discriminating against Hispanics.

Like other circuits, the First Circuit also held that court complaints alleging disabilities-discrimination cannot simply make a “conclusory contention” of discrimination, but rather must contain some supporting allegations, such as that the plaintiff is a “qualified” person with a disability. This matters because the longer a meritless lawsuit stays in court, the more it costs. A suit that costs $250,000 to defeat at trial may cost only $75,000 if tossed out earlier on summary judgment after discovery, and may cost only $25,000 if tossed out prior to discovery on a motion to dismiss the complaint.

In its 2002 decision in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, an age and national-origin discrimination case, the Supreme Court made it much harder to toss out meritless discrimination suits at an early stage, ruling that a typical discrimination case can survive a motion to dismiss and proceed to discovery even if the plaintiff does not allege specific facts supporting his discrimination claim, such as that he was qualified for the job. The plaintiff need only allege that he was denied a job because of his age, national-origin, etc., without giving his underlying reasons for believing he was the victim of discrimination.

However, the ADA is very different from the typical antidiscrimination statute. It is both broader (since it requires not simply that the disabled be treated as well as non-disabled workers, but also that they be given preferential “reasonable accommodations”) and narrower (it expressly protects only “qualified” disabled people, unlike race, sex, and age discrimination statutes, which require that unqualified blacks, women, and elderly people be treated as well as their unqualified white, male, and younger colleagues), containing additional statutory elements that a plaintiff must satisfy.

Since the ADA, unlike other antidiscrimination statutes, requires more than a simple showing of discrimination, the First Circuit was right to require ADA plaintiffs to make more than a simple contention of discrimination in their complaint. As the Supreme Court observed in its Swierkiewicz decision, while a plaintiff’s complaint need not provide unnecessary evidentiary details, it nevertheless must “give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.”

Jack Thompson update: Florida bar latest target

Overlawyered favorite Jack Thompson has followed through his threat to sue the Florida Bar for daring to investigate him for ethical violations. He also complained to the interim U.S. Attorney, who punted to the FBI, which will likely give the complaint the sound ignoring it deserves. The Daily Business Review story for some reason refers to the Alabama suit against video game “Grand Theft Auto,” which we had previously reported Jack Thompson had quit. (Carl Jones, “Anti-Porn Crusader Sues Over Bar Probe”, Daily Business Review, Apr. 14).