Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’

Lawyers’ reputations soaked in Poland Spring fight

“Mutually assured character destruction”: that’s what Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam says to expect from a trial that started March 7 in Portland, Me. federal court that pits some of the country’s better-known members of the plaintiff’s bar against each other. Among the cast of characters: Jan Schlichtmann, of “A Civil Action” fame, Steve Berman of Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, and Massachusetts tobacco litigator Thomas Sobol of the same firm, and Alabama’s Garve Ivey. At issue is whether lawyers breached legal ethics or sold out the interests of class members in their sharp-elbowed maneuvers to control the process of litigation and reach a lucrative settlement with Poland Spring’s parent company, Nestle. Also testifying is celebrity enviro-pol Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who had signed up a water company he controls as one of the plaintiffs — gee, who knew RFK Jr. was tied in with hotshot plaintiff’s lawyers? (Alex Beam, “An uncivil action in Maine”, Mar. 8; Gregory D. Kesich, “Water bottlers in court to recoup lost settlement”, Portland Press Herald, Mar. 8; “Law firm’s handling of Poland Spring case at issue in trial”, AP/Boston Globe, Mar. 8; Gregory D. Kesich, “Water case puts lawyers’ ethics on trial”, Portland Press Herald, Mar. 10; “Witnesses tell of how Nestle case fell apart”, Mar. 17). The trial is expected to conclude this week. For more on the Poland Spring class actions, see Sept. 10, 2003, Feb. 2, 2004 and Jun. 25, 2004.

“Tripped over your mail? File suit”

“You never know when a flower pot, stray cat, man in a monkey suit or cunning birthday package might reach out and grab your ankle. But, if the latter happens, suing is probably the best option. It is definitely the mailman’s fault you were not watching where you were going.” (Kristie Busam, University of Alabama Crimson White, Mar. 1). Howard Bashman has MSM press coverage of the Supreme Court decision that we covered Feb. 23.

Chat room harassment

George Gillespie of Medina County, Ohio, is suing America Online for allegedly failing to do anything about teasing, humiliation and abuse he endured in one of the online service’s chat rooms. His suit also names individual defendants who live in Oregon and Alabama; Gillespie alleges that the Alabama man actually traveled to Ohio to further his campaign of harassment. Attorney Mark Tarallo of Holland & Knight in Boston believes the plaintiff “will face a tough battle, particularly in the fight with AOL.” (Tresa Baldas, “Chat Room Chatter Draws Lawsuit”, National Law Journal, Jan. 6; Julie Wallace, “Internet, civil liberties collide in unique lawsuit”, Akron Beacon Journal, Dec. 19).

Jack Thompson quits Grand Theft Auto case

“Jack Thompson, the colorful Miami attorney who has become synonymous with lawsuits against video game companies, withdrew as the attorney for the plaintiffs in Fayette’s video game trial.”

…Thompson’s withdrawal comes after a hearing on a motion from the defense attorneys, who represent video game manufacturers and distributors, to revoke Thompson’s privilege to practice law in Alabama during the case. Judge James Moore granted Thompson, pro hac vice, the legal term for the temporary privilege, when the suit was filed.

Defense Attorney Jim Smith claimed that Thompson bombarded him, his co-counsel Rebecca Ward and his law firm, Blank Rome, with threatening and harassing e-mails and letters. He also accused Thompson of violating legal ethics, misrepresenting an alleged past history of disciplinary problems and attempting to poison the jury pool with frequent press releases and appearances in the news media….

Since defense attorneys filed the motion, Thompson has claimed they were “coming after” him. He said Blank Rome’s strategy has always been to attack its opponents.

(“Robert DeWitt, “Attorney in Fayette case bows out”, Tuscaloosa News, Nov. 8). More coverage: IGN,, GameSpot News, The Inquirer. For more on Thompson’s antics, see Feb. 19, Oct. 21, etc.

Update: Alabama Vioxx judge

Updating our Apr. 28 item on Rogers v. Merck: the Washington Legal Foundation has filed a judicial misconduct complaint (Jun. 21, PDF) against Alabama Circuit Judge John Rochester, saying he should have disqualified himself from hearing the suit brought by the firm of Beasley Allen, which according to an April AP report had last October donated $60,000 to his unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the state’s high court. Judge Rochester characterized the complaint as meritless, saying “attorneys for Vioxx’s manufacturer, Merck & Co., had not complained about the donations and had not asked him to step aside from the case.” (“Complaint Filed Against Vioxx Case Judge”, AP/, Jun. 21).

In Alabama, the tusks are looser

Auburn, Washington dentist Robert Woo mysteriously thought it would be funny to photograph a staff assistant who was under anesthesia with a pair of fake boar tusks in her mouth. When confronted with the photos, she quit and sued for “post-traumatic stress disorder” allegedly triggered by the battery, eventually settling for a quarter-million dollars. Any argument Woo has to victimhood for the ridiculous damages claimed is obliterated, however, because he himself turned around and sued his insurance company for emotional distress for failing “in bad faith” to cover the incident as “dental services.” A judge let the matter get to trial, and a jury hit Fireman’s Fund Insurance for three times the amount of the original law suit, $750,000, plus another $600,000 in attorneys’ fees, before the Washington Court of Appeals threw the case out last week. (Maureen O’Hagan, “Appeals court rules against dentist”, Seattle Times, Jun. 16; Woo v. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. (Wash. App. Jun. 13, 2005); Romensko blog, Jun. 20). Other stories of bad-faith-insurance litigation: Sep. 7 and May 5, 2004.

Rogers v. Merck

Until today it looked as if the first Vioxx wrongful-death action to go to trial against Merck & Co. since the painkiller’s withdrawal from the market would be Cheryl Rogers’ lawsuit in an Alabama state court over the death of her late husband Howard. Now, at the request of a federal judge who is presiding over other Vioxx cases, the parties have agreed to postpone trial in the Rogers case, which had been set to start next month. (Theresa Agovino, “First Vioxx trial to be postponed”, AP/Business Week, Apr. 28). That’s a pity, since it would have been illuminating to get to the bottom of the allegations about the case aired in recent weeks. Per AP:

Read On…

Parking under the influence

Under Alabama law, if you’ve had too much to drink and decide to sleep it off in your parked car, officers can and do arrest you for DUI, no matter that the keys never left your pocket. A sheriff explains that, after all, the inebriate might wake up and decide to start up the car, so it’s better to make an arrest (which carries a penalty for a first offense that includes loss of license) before that can happen (“Drunks Arrested For Parking Under the Influence”, WAFF Huntsville, Apr. 13; Sheryl Marsh, Decatur Daily, Apr. 12) (via Balko who got it from DUIblog, who has more).

If the government wants to save money, it could start here

Logan Young loves Alabama football. He loves it so much that he paid a Memphis-area high school coach $150,000 in exchange for the coach steering a top recruit to Alabama. This act was certainly immoral and violated about twenty NCAA violations. But because the coach works for a public school, the act was also bribery of a state official. And so the federal government prosecuted Young under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), and convicted him for conspiracy, bribery and money laundering. (AP, “Shady boosters can now fear federal prosecutors,” (Feb. 5); “The real outrage was Young’s conduct,” Birmingham News, Feb. 6). Was this really the best use of government resources? RICO, a statute originally targeted at organized crime, has been extended far beyond this purpose and is now used to go after abortion protestors and immoral boosters. I do not agree with what Logan did, but I would argue that the detriment to society is not so great to warrant such an expenditure of tax dollars and judicial resources.

Ted’s mythbusting at Point of Law

Maybe he’s too modest to mention it here, but over at our sister website, Ted has been on a roll with several devastating posts correcting fallacies that have circulated during the past week’s intense news coverage of liability reform:

* The George Soros-sponsored, David Brock-run media gadfly organization, Media Matters for America, recently criticized the Washington Post for running coverage that was not (to its taste) sufficiently critical of medical malpractice reform. Trouble is, as Ted shows, Media Matters itself blundered into whopping errors on the subject, badly misrepresenting the views of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). “This is what MMFA gets for relying on ATLA fact sheets instead of primary sources.”

* Pointing to evidence that payouts by 98 Massachusetts doctors accounted for more than 13 percent of one year’s malpractice payouts in the state, the New York Times concluded that cracking down on bad doctors could greatly help the malpractice crisis. But the numbers announced in the study warrant no such conclusion;

* The Association of Trial Lawyers of America is out with a supposed fact sheet on medical malpractice, which (no surprise) Ted finds to be full of gross distortions. Equally embarrassing, he catches Illinois Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky posting on her official website a huge chunk of the lame ATLA argumentation, cut and pasted without acknowledgment of its interest-group origins. (Allen Adomite at Illinois Civil Justice League has more).

* Finally, Ted discovers the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association claiming that a profitable year in the property insurance business is reason to doubt that there’s a crisis in the liability insurance business.