The beer giant agreed to pay at least $120 million in a confidential settlement to settle a defamation suit and other litigation arising from its termination of a beer distributorship held by the family of baseball great Roger Maris. (AP/Orlando Sentinel, Aug. 24; Tiffany Pakkala, “Maris deal taps Busch for $120m”, Gainesville Sun, Aug. 25). The dispute took the form of several distinct legal actions; in 2001 a Gainesville, Fla. jury awarded the Maris family $50 million following a three-month trial at which celebrated attorney Willie Gary, representing the family, was charged with repeated misconduct (see Apr. 1-2, 2002). However, a judge later threw out ethics charges against Gary (Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, 2004). In the latest round, Gary was again representing the family, this time in a defamation suit against the brewing company; a jury was preparing to return its verdict when the parties settled. (Gregory Cancelada, “Maris family, Anheuser-Busch square off in defamation suit”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch/San Jose Mercury News, Aug. 22).
Piling on in search of a Next Tobacco: “A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles [earlier this month] against the world’s two biggest brewers accuses the beer makers of advertising to minors and seeks $4 billion in disgorgement of profit.” The suit, filed by Seattle’s Hagens Berman, whose doings are oft chronicled in this space (see Sept. 9-10, 2002 and links from there, Nov. 24) targets Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller. It invokes California’s distinctively abuse-prone s. 17200 law (see Dec. 8), as well as a California law which bans alcohol advertising intended to encourage underage drinking. (Ira Teinowitz, “$4 Billion Lawsuit Filed Against Beer Giants”, Advertising Age, Feb. 4) (lawsuit website/complaint in PDF format). Two months ago, lawyers led by David Boies filed a would-be class action against a number of alcohol companies over alleged youth marketing (see Dec. 1)
Following up on our Apr. 1-2, 2002 coverage: “Gary and one of his law partners, Madison McClellan, are charged with multiple ethics violations involving their representation of baseball legend Roger Maris’ family business during a 2001 trial against the world’s largest beer brewer, Anheuser-Busch.” Trial is scheduled for tomorrow in Ocala “on allegations including falsifying evidence, making false statements, using profanity, improperly appealing for the jury’s sympathy and insulting opposing attorneys.” (Pat Moore, “Ethics trial begins Tuesday for noted lawyer Willie Gary”, Palm Beach Post, Jan. 4)(via Legal Reader, who had it from How Appealing) On Gary’s flamboyance, see Dec. 23 as well as links from the Apr. 1-2, 2002 item. Updates Jan. 7: judge dismisses case against Gary and partner on second day of trial; Sept. 5, 2005: underlying case and related litigation settle for sum upwards of $120 million.
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)
April 10-13 — Posting slowdown. Updates will be sparse for a while as our editor responds to a family emergency. See you, most likely, early next week. (DURABLE LINK)
April 10-13 — Public Citizen’s bogus numbers. The supposed consumer group now concedes that it put out erroneous numbers which made Pennsylvania doctors look artificially bad (“Watchdog group backs off claim that Pa. doctors top nation’s repeat malpractice payouts”, AP/Scranton Times, Apr. 2; see our Mar. 15-16 report). In January, in a move timed to undercut President Bush’s Scranton speech calling for malpractice reform, Public Citizen claimed that 10.6 percent of Keystone State doctors had paid out on more than one malpractice allegation; it now admits it can verify only a figure of 5.4 percent. The false numbers were widely reported in the press, and the AP last week published an unusual correction (AP/Kansas City Star, Apr. 4). Pennsylvania Medical Society spokesman Chuck Moran called for Public Citizen to apologize: “It’s ironic that they initiated a report called ‘Medical Misdiagnosis: challenging the malpractice claims of the doctor’s lobby’, when, in fact, they are the ones that misdiagnosed the situation.” The accuracy of the group’s figures have also been challenged in Colorado (“Monitoring malpractice” (editorial), Denver Post, Mar. 10).
There is at any rate a more fundamental problem with the litigation lobby’s contention that the current crisis is caused by a small number of bad doctors who attract most malpractice suits and should simply be driven out of practice. As Binghamton, N.Y. neurologist Dr. Jeffrey Riben points out, the number of malpractice lawsuits doctors face often have less to do with their competence than with their specialty and geographic location. “If you look around at physicians that get sued a lot, they tend to be highly prestigious names, people who get difficult cases in difficult specialties where the results are predestined not to be as good as those of people who handle simpler cases, Riben said. ‘Those are the people who have litigation. So it you want to eliminate those people with multiple suits, you would have to eliminate all of our neurosurgeons, all of our orthopedic surgeons, all of our obstetricians, anybody working in an emergency room and everybody reading mammograms,’ he said. ‘I think you would agree if we eliminated those specialties we would not improve health care.'” (Eric Durr, “Docs, public interest groups battle over malpractice issues”, Albany Business Review, Mar. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
April 10-13 — Employers liable for not filtering raunchy spam? At least if workers have complained, employers may be at risk of liability under sexual harassment law if they fail to install blocking software on email inboxes, say various legal experts. Quotes our editor (Declan McCullagh, “Por nspam: Are employers liable?”, CNET News, Apr. 7) (DURABLE LINK)
April 10-13 — Best and worst state courts for business. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce releases the results of a detailed Harris poll of business respondents. The “top five states today as evaluated by corporate America at doing the best job at creating a fair and reasonable litigation environment are: Delaware, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, and Indiana whereas in 2002 Delaware, Virginia, Washington, Kansas, and Iowa were listed as the top 5. The worst perceived states today are: Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, exactly the same as in 2002.” California scores low marks for punitive damages and treatment of class actions; Hawaii is criticized for onerous discovery and the difficulty of getting weak cases thrown out quickly; New York and Minnesota win plaudits for their handling of scientific and technical evidence. Where does your state rank? (overview) (press release in PDF format) (poll results as Word document) (press conference) (DURABLE LINK)
April 9 — Schools roundup. In Camden, N.J., second grade teacher Eileen Blau has sued student Daniel Allen for running into her in a school hallway at an “excessive rate of speed”, thus inflicting “severe and multiple injuries, some of which are permanent in nature,” according to her suit. Young Allen, who at the time of the incident was 11 and weighed about 90 pounds, didn’t know his family was the target of a claim until the sheriff’s deputy showed up at the door. “He didn’t understand why someone would want to do this to him,” said his mother. “He said ‘Why does she hate me? Why is she doing this. I said I was sorry.'” (Bill Duhart, “Teacher sues student over hall collision”, Cherry Hill, N.J., Courier-Post, Mar. 29). The American Bar Association Journal presents an overview of suits arising when girls aren’t picked for the cheerleading squad (Stephanie Francis Cahill, “Bring It On”, Apr. 4; see Jun. 4, 2001). And “[a] group of attorneys who sued Mississippi schools for millions of dollars on behalf of custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers has turned to Alabama, filing more than 60 similar lawsuits”. (Scott Parrott, “Local school systems sued”, Tuscaloosa News, Apr. 4). More on the Jackson, Miss.-based School Litigation Group, which according to one of its principals, former congressman and secretary of agriculture Mike Espy, “takes a contingency fee of between 40 percent and 50 percent, depending on the complexity of the case”: Gary Young, “Overtime Suits 101”, National Law Journal, Mar. 19. (DURABLE LINK)
April 7-8 — Bag of treasures. Cornell Curry, 57 and homeless in New York City, says the Partnership for the Homeless’s drop-in center on W. 23rd St. negligently lost a duffel bag of his belongings last fall; he had been unable to stop by to retrieve the belongings because he was spending three weeks in jail after being arrested for public urination. The shelter “admits it did toss one of Curry’s bags in the garbage, but said that one contained only three soiled pieces of clothing.” Au contraire, says Curry in his lawsuit: he avers that the contents of the lost duffel bag included “an $18,000 star sapphire ring, a $4,000 gold watch, $200 in cash and ‘extremely valuable’ photographs, including his parents’ 1937 wedding photo”, entitling him to $2 million in compensatory and $2 million in punitive damages. Last month Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Rosalyn Richter denied a motion to throw out the claim: “It is simply too early to resolve whether the plaintiff did, in fact, leave the bag in the defendant’s possession and whether the plaintiff also shares some responsibility for the alleged loss,” Richter said. (Helen Peterson, “Homeless, or Mister money bag?”, New York Daily News, Mar. 20). (DURABLE LINK)
April 7-8 — Malpractice crisis hits sports-team docs. Some of organized sports’ most memorable highlights have come when athletes played through pain and injury, but increasingly the result is to create a risk of litigation against team physicians, who are exposed to monetary damages that are potentially enormous given their patients’ potential loss of earning power. Some doctors are withdrawing from the care of professional athletes, and organized football is discussing schemes to indemnify team doctors for their escalating insurance bills. (Jason Cole, “With malpractice rates skyrocketing, many doctors are hesitant to care for professional athletes”, Miami Herald, Apr. 2). Our editor’s Feb. 27 Wall Street Journal piece on lawsuits blaming obstetricians for cerebral palsy is now online, thanks to the folks at Texans for Lawsuit Reform. And welcome readers from Sydney Smith’s excellent medical weblog MedPundit, which has run posts in recent weeks on California’s MICRA and insurance rates, what happens to patients who win awards (plus North Carolina crisis notes), the problem with physician “report cards”, Public Citizen, and a link to this Tallahassee Democrat op-ed (Mar. 3) on how Florida’s malpractice crisis is harming its medical schools. (DURABLE LINK)
April 7-8 — Edwards leads in fund-raising. The North Carolina senator aces his Democratic rivals in the White House money race: “The key to Edwards’ success may have come from trial lawyers, a group of which Edwards is a part and from whom he received 80 percent of political action committee money in recent years.” (“Dem Presidential Hopefuls Compete for Cash”, FoxNews.com, Apr. 2; Richard A. Oppel, Jr., “With $7 Million in Donations, Kerry Trails Democratic Rival”, New York Times, Apr. 3). However, a January poll conducted for the Raleigh News & Observer found the senator none too popular in his home state: “The poll found that 47 percent of active Tar Heel voters disapprove of Edwards’ decision to seek the presidency, while 37 percent approve”. (“Poll: Edwards wouldn’t beat Bush in North Carolina”, AP/Charlotte Observer, Jan. 18) (via “Robert Musil“). (DURABLE LINK)
April 7-8 — U.K.: “Killer wrongly sacked for axe attack”. “A convicted murderer who tried to attack a colleague with an axe was wrongly sacked from his job, an employment tribunal ruled yesterday.” The tribunal in the British Midlands ruled that Preston city council was wrong to fire James Robertson, 50, without notice from his health inspector post after he “brandished the [axe] in an Indian restaurant in Preston after an argument”. However, the tribunal ordered the council to pay only “two weeks’ wages, or £807, for breach of contract,” rejecting a plea for more extensive compensation by Robertson, who “gave evidence while handcuffed to a prison guard.” The council “had employed him when he was released from jail on licence after being convicted of kicking a man to death in Glasgow in 1971.” (Daily Telegraph, Apr. 3) (& welcome Dave Barry readers — the great humorist generously calls us “the always fascinating Overlawyered.com” (archives not working, Apr. 7)). (DURABLE LINK)
April 4-6 — Gun lawsuit preemption moves forward. On Wednesday a House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on H.R. 1036, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which would “prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages resulting from the misuse of their products by others.” Our editor testified in favor of the measure (his prepared statement). The proceedings were televised live on C-SPAN III and rebroadcast overnight on C-SPAN II (schedule, Apr. 2). Yesterday the full House Judiciary Committee gave its approval to the legislation, with Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher joining all panel Republicans in support of the measure. John Tierney’s New York Times account (“A New Push to Grant Gun Industry Immunity From Suits”, Apr. 4) quotes our editor on the subject and mentions The Rule of Lawyers (see second page of article). (DURABLE LINK)
April 4-6 — C-SPAN again. Speaking of C-SPAN II, the network’s “BookTV” feature will be rebroadcasting our editor’s Manhattan Institute speech on The Rule of Lawyers at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, April 5. (DURABLE LINK)
April 4-6 — A bond too far. Even the editorialists of the New York Times agree that it’s “absurd” and “the kind of ruling that erodes the credibility of our legal system” to require Philip Morris to post a ruinous $12 billion bond before it can appeal the class action ruling of a judge in plaintiff-friendly Madison County, Ill. (“Too Costly an Appeal”, New York Times, Apr. 4)(see Wednesday’s post; more). “As for Judge [Nicholas] Byron, it’s difficult to divine if he was playing jurist or friendly croupier. He sought to sweeten the pot by awarding the State of Illinois $3 billion in punitive damages, out of the total $10.1 billion judgment.” (“A Madison County jackpot”, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 2). Perhaps influenced by the prospect that the state will be thrown this slice of the booty, the Illinois Senate is refusing (for now) to lift a finger to reduce the bonding requirement (“Panel nixes bill to help Philip Morris”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 4)(Update Apr. 30: judge agrees to reduce bond somewhat). (DURABLE LINK)
April 2-3 — Appeals bonds, again. Once again the business end of an otherwise outlandish mega-verdict turns out to be the requirement that a defendant post a bond before it can appeal: Philip Morris says it is unable to put up the requisite $12 billion needed to appeal the recent Madison County, Ill, verdict against it (see Mar. 24). Officials of the fifty states are running around in near-hysteria: they’re bothered not by the possible injustice or community-and-investor disruption involved in bankrupting the giant company, whose holdings include Kraft Foods and Oscar Mayer, but instead by the prospect that an insolvency will jeopardize the flow of billions of dollars into their own coffers under the tobacco settlement. So the AGs, supposedly second to none in their loathing of the tobacco companies, are making noises about intervening to try to get the appeals bond requirement lowered. This is the second time around (at least) for this issue: state governments also mobilized after the Engle tobacco case in Florida threatened bonding requirements high enough to destroy the industry. See also the Loewen case (Ameet Sachdev, “States line up against smoking case bond”, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 1; Neil Buckley, “Philip Morris ‘cannot afford’ $12bn bond”, Financial Times, Apr. 1; “Philip Morris woes hurt stock”, AP/Seattle Times, Apr. 1; “Appeals bond a symptom of need for tort reform”, Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph, Apr. 1; related). (DURABLE LINK)
April 2-3 — After the R.I. club fire. “Ignoring calls from peers to hold off on lawsuits for now, a Providence lawyer [earlier this month] fired the second salvo in what is expected to become a barrage of litigation resulting from the fire at The Station. The lawsuit was filed in Providence Superior Court on behalf of Lisa Kelly of Swansea, a 27-year-old single mom who was among the 99 people killed in the Feb. 20 blaze at the West Warwick, R.I., nightclub. The lawsuit was filed by Ronald Kingsley, the father of Kelly’s daughter, Zoe Jean Kingsley. Kelly’s mother, Barbara Nagle of Attleboro, yesterday said she knew nothing about the suit and that Kingsley hadn’t had any contact with his daughter in three years as far as she knew….
“The latest lawsuit names 19 individuals and companies as defendants, including the St. Louis-based beer giant Anheuser-Busch Inc., whose Budweiser brand accompanied some advertising for the ill-fated show. Anheuser-Busch Inc. yesterday denied any role in promoting or sponsoring the concert in a statement sent to the Herald. ‘The company that distributes Anheuser-Busch Inc. products in Rhode Island is an independent business that has the right to use our beer brand name in its advertising,’ wrote Stephen Lambright, a company lawyer.” (Thomas Caywood, “Second suit filed over fire at Station”, Boston Herald, Mar. 11)(see Mar. 10-11). See also Roger Parloff; “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Ire”, Fortune, Mar. 19; Deroy Murdock, “Lawyers turn tragedy to farce”, Scripps Howard/Naples, Fla. Daily News, Mar. 28. (DURABLE LINK)
April 2-3 — “Mayor: WTC Personal Injury Suits Could Bankrupt NYC”. “New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday warned that personal injury lawsuits filed by people who claim their long-term health was damaged by the clean-up of the World Trade Center site could bankrupt the city in the next 20 years.” (Reuters/Yahoo, Mar. 31). See also Paul Howard (Manhattan Institute), “A 9/11 Tort-Fest”, New York Post, Aug. 10, 2002, and New York Law Journal coverage: Mark Hamblett, “9/11 Victims’ Suits Flood Court to Meet One-Year Time Limit”, Sept. 11; Tom Perrotta, “New York City Creates Unit for Suits From Sept. 11”, Sept. 12; Daniel Wise, “Sept. 11 Fund Master Found to Give ‘Fair Compensation'”, Oct. 2). (DURABLE LINK)
April 1 — Maybe crime pays dept.: not an April Fool’s joke. Gerald Skoning’s annual National Law Journal roundup of the year’s weirdest cases in labor and employment law includes the following gem: “Richard N. Shick — while employed as a caseworker in the Illinois Department of Public Aid — robbed a convenience store in Joliet, Ill., armed with a sawed-off shotgun. Afterward, he sued the department, claiming that he was discriminated against because of his disabilities and his sex, the trauma of which caused him to commit the robbery. The jury awarded him $5 million in damages and $166,700 in back pay. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois partially vacated and dismissed the judgment, but awarded $303,830 in front pay, even while he serves a 10-year sentence. Thankfully, the 7th Circuit reversed.” (“Legal Weirdness at Work”, Mar. 26; Gail Diane Cox, “Here’s the tort reform poster boy for 2002”, National Law Journal, Oct. 28). Also on Skoning’s list: voodoo signs ruled not an unfair labor practice; employer dodges harassment charge after conduct is ruled “even-handedly offensive” rather than discriminatory; hemorrhoids not a protected disability under ADA. (DURABLE LINK)
April 30 — “Lawyers who won $10 bil. verdict had donated to judge”. Okay, so it’s among the year’s least surprising headlines: “Illinois campaign records show 19 lawyers or relatives connected to a law firm [Korein Tillery] that recently won a record tobacco judgment gave almost $10,000 in political donations to the presiding state judge last year, according to a published report”. Perhaps a bit more surprising: Judge Nicholas Byron’s campaign had also gotten $6,000 from the law firm that represented the defendant, Philip Morris. “Illinois law doesn’t prevent judges from accepting money from attorneys who argue cases in their courts, and there are no limits on the number or amount of contributions that politicians and judges can accept.” (AP/Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 14; “Tobacco Case Judge Got Campaign Funds From Lawyers: Report”, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 11). An analysis for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “found that judges running for election or retention in Madison County last year averaged more than $100,000 each in campaign receipts. That’s three times the roughly $29,000 average the newspaper found for judges statewide and 10 times the $10,000 average in Cook County’s crowded judicial system. The average take for Madison County judges is about four times more than for judges in neighboring St. Clair County, which has roughly the same population.” Most of the donations came from practicing lawyers. (Kevin McDermott, $218,000 for one judge”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 27)(see Mar. 24, Apr. 2, Apr. 4).
State governments — and the municipal-finance lawyers that have helped them “securitize” streams of future tobacco booty — heaved a sigh of relief when Judge Byron earlier this month agreed to reduce Philip Morris’s appeals bond (to a still extraordinarily onerous level), thus averting a possible bankruptcy filing and interruption of payments to the states (Brenda Sandburg, “Tobacco Decision Gives Bond Lawyers Breathing Room”, The Recorder, Apr. 15). Judge Byron also decreed in the original verdict that the tobacco company should pay the plaintiff’s team legal fees approaching $1.8 billion, which works out to $13,100 per hour even if you swallow the lawyers’ contention that they spent a staggering 135,500 hours of work on the case over the past three years. If you’re curious to see the audit trail documenting those hours, your curiosity may be in vain. “Charles W. Chapman, a retired Illinois appellate court judge who testified in support of such fees for the plaintiffs’ attorneys, “said that it was not his duty to verify the hours Tillery worked. ‘It’s basically an honor system,’ Chapman said. ‘I don’t have any way of knowing if he worked those hours.'” (Trisha L. Howard and Paul Hampe, “Record legal fee averages to $13,100 an hour”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 6). (DURABLE LINK)
April 28-29 — Latest Rule of Lawyers publicity. At Forbes.com, reviewer Robert Lenzner pens a rave for our editor’s new book: “Anyone in the market for a truly gripping read about tort lawyers should skip [John] Grisham’s [latest] novel and instead pick up Walter K. Olson’s nonfiction book The Rule of Lawyers, a brilliant expose of the way courts are being overwhelmed by mass tort actions. … Grisham’s indictment of the tort bar can’t hold a candle to Olson’s thorough journalistic impeachment of the dangers posed by these lawyers.” (Robert Lenzner, “The Rule of Lawyers”, Forbes.com, Apr. 21). The blurb/summary for the review provided by the Forbes.com editors is reasonably flattering as well. In Paris, meanwhile, Le Monde discusses our editor’s “dernier livre” and also provides a link to this website, which it describes as “très documenté”. (Claire Ané, “Dommages et intérêts collatéraux de la justice américaine”, Le Monde, Apr. 22). The March/April issue of the American Spectator features a substantial excerpt from the book’s chapter on trial lawyers and politics (Walter Olson, “The Lawsuit Lobby”, not online). In the print version of National Review, the book is favorably reviewed by Doug Bandow (“Shyster Heaven”, Apr. 21). And the Boston Globe‘s Charles Stein mentioned the book and quoted our editor in a recent column on the states’ interest in preventing tobacco companies from going under (“States confront a necessity: ‘evil'”, Apr. 13). (DURABLE LINK)
April 28-29 — Had no idea you can’t launder campaign contributions. “A lawyer for Tab Turner, the head of a Little Rock law firm under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, suggested Thursday that his client had not been aware of an election law that prevents him from reimbursing employees who contribute to U.S. Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign.” (John Wagner, “Edwards donor will cooperate”, Raleigh News & Observer, Apr. 25). “Twenty people who were identified on Edwards’s report as ‘paralegal’ employees each gave $2,000, as did nine persons described as ‘legal assistants.'” Most of those contacted by the Washington Post claimed that they had chosen to donate their own money, but two employees at Turner’s firm indicated that they expected to be reimbursed by their employer. “Federal election laws prohibit a person from funneling donations through someone else to conceal their source. Such practices would enable the reimburser to exceed the legal contribution limit for individuals, recently raised to $2,000 from $1,000 per election.” Turner is among the best-known attorneys specializing in product liability suits against automakers. (Thomas B. Edsall and Dan Balz, “Edwards Returns Law Firm’s Donations”, Washington Post, Apr. 18). (DURABLE LINK)
April 28-29 — “Solicitor billed for 81-hour day”. Pennsylvania: “The lawyer for Upper Darby’s financially pressed schools paid back $19,361 in fees after The Inquirer showed him evidence that he had billed the district for more than 24 hours’ work on each of four days. …Barry Van Rensler, who was paid $421,327 last year and more than $2.8 million in his last 14 years as district solicitor, said the billings in question were innocent mistakes involving misplaced decimal points. … District officials say they are satisfied that the errors in Van Rensler’s billings were innocent.” One bill was for an 81-hour day. (Barbara Boyer and Tina Moore, Philadelphia Inquirer, Apr. 27). (DURABLE LINK)
April 28-29 — Wouldn’t want to look unsafe. City officials in Oakland, Calif. would like to crack down on businesses’ right to use “exterior security devices” to protect their premises. Aside from unsightliness, “It gives a sense that our community is not a very safe city,” said City Manager Robert Bobb. Last month a City Council committee “backed a plan … to prohibit barbed wire fences in commercial districts but stopped short of supporting a more far-reaching proposal to eliminate burglar bars, roll-down doors and retractable security gates, common fixtures throughout the city.” Many small business owners aren’t impressed: “‘There is a lot of crime in Oakland. Who’s trying to kid who?’ Josefina Lopez, owner of Corazon Del Pueblo, said at her Mexican imports store and art gallery on International Boulevard, near High Street. … When riots broke out after the Super Bowl in January, Lopez watched from her store as vandals and looters broke nearly every window of the Kelly-Moore Paint store across the street. Her shop, with a wrought-iron gate in front of its doors and metal roll-down doors over the windows, escaped unharmed.” (Janine DeFao, “Oakland trying to avoid that ‘war zone’ look: Ban on metal bars, roll-down doors considered”, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 26). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25-27 — Price of bad hairdo: $6,000. “The bad hairdo blamed by a woman for her emotional tailspin was worth $6,000, a St. Louis County jury decided Wednesday in a verdict that delivered far less than she sought.” Geremie Hoff sued the local Elizabeth Arden salon after an Aug. 2001 hair straightening job was followed by brittleness and fall-outs. Hoff’s attorney had said “his client was so distressed that she retired early from the University of Missouri at St. Louis, where she taught, and also stopped guiding tours to Italy.” A defense lawyer, however, “noted that Hoff didn’t retire until nearly a year later, after her hair returned. He said her tour business would have suffered anyway, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” (William C. Lhotka, “Jury awards Creve Coeur woman $6,000 in suit over hairdo”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 9; Cynthia Billhartz, “What’s the price of a really bad hair day?”, Apr. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25-27 — Gun lawsuit columns. Did the U.S. House of Representatives ignore proper principles of federalism when it recently passed a bill that would pre-empt some lawsuits in state court seeking to saddle gun manufacturers with the costs of crimes? Columnist Jacob Sullum takes up the question, quoting our editor’s recent Capitol Hill testimony on the subject (“Federalist Case”, syndicated/Reason, Apr. 18). Also citing our work on gun lawsuits recently have been columnists Chuck Colson (“Standing on Dangerous Ground”, syndicated/TownHall, Apr. 16); Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, in his second monthly column in a row (“Standing Guard”, American Hunter, May, not online); and Paul Craig Roberts (“Gun control: the criminal lobby”, syndicated/Town Hall, Apr. 23). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25-27 — “Reforming Class-Action Suits”. “[C]ompanies operating nationwide get haled into local courts that plaintiffs’ lawyers have found particularly willing to accept class actions — and to hit out-of-state firms with costly judgments. This situation allows state judges at the county level to issue rulings that ‘federalize’ their decisions — effectively writing rules for the whole country. In recent years, for example, an Illinois court imposed Illinois law on the insurance laws or regulations of New York, Massachusetts, and Hawaii. Class-action suits have also become an ATM for unscrupulous lawyers, who win millions of dollars for themselves but sometimes leave clients empty-handed.” The Christian Science Monitor lends its editorial endorsement to the Class Action Fairness Act, which has passed the House and is now pending in the Senate (Apr. 17). And Baseball Crank, which we have been tardy in thanking for its kind link to us, has a highly recommended post (Apr. 16) on “Federalism’s Edge: the point at which an exercise of state power (by a state or group of states) infringes on the right to self-government of the citizens of the other states”, an issue that underlies both the CAFA and gun-suit-preemption controversies. (DURABLE LINK)
April 25-27 — Manufacturer sued after bullet fails to take down lion. Professional big-game hunter Rolf Rohwer is suing bullet manufacturers after an unfortunate occurrence on safari in Africa in which he shot a charging lion from about 30 yards away but was mauled anyway. According to his lawyer’s allegations, the Federal Cartridge Co.’s Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet, even if suitable for hunting such big game animals as rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo and hippopotamus, was insufficiently lethal when aimed at a lion because the smaller animal’s thinner skin permitted the bullet to pass through with minimal damage. (Howie Padilla, “Injured big-game hunter takes aim at bullet manufacturers”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Apr. 16). Update Jan. 15, 2005: judge dismisses complaint. (DURABLE LINK)
April 24 — Posting to resume tomorrow. Following two weeks in which our editor, called away by a death in his family, was without web-posting capability, we expect to pick up where we left off momentarily.
April 14-23 — (On hiatus).
April 10 — Soap star: ABC wrote my character out of the show. “A former star of ABC’s daytime drama ‘All My Children’ has filed a lawsuit for nearly $32 million, claiming that the network lied to him and damaged him professionally and financially.
“Michael Nader, who played the dark, dashing and rich Hungarian Count Dimitri Marick on ‘All My Children’ for nearly 10 years, says in court papers that he ‘became ill’ in February 2001 and went on medical leave.
“Nader, 57, was in fact in drug treatment after a narcotics arrest in Manhattan’s East Village. The district attorney’s office said he pleaded guilty and was sentenced May 22, 2001, to three years of probation.
“Nader’s Dimitri character …was written out of the show in 1999. The character was resurrected in 2000 but was written out again in 2001 after Nader’s arrest and rehab. … Nader says [in court papers] he told ABC in March 2001 that he was ready to work but officials there told him to continue on medical leave. … [Later they] refused to release him from his [$1.7 million five-year] contract [signed in April 2000] so he could work elsewhere.” (“Former ‘All My Children’ Star Files Suit”, AP/Newsday, Apr. 3). (DURABLE LINK)
April 10 — “Peter’s Pence”. Baltimore plaintiff’s lawyer and political czar Peter Angelos, who had been demanding $1 billion in fees for representing the state of Maryland in its tobacco suit, has ended the dispute by agreeing to take a mere $150 million instead. The people over at the National Association of Manufacturers’ Human Resources Policy Department feel awfully sorry for the Orioles owner for having to settle for such a measly amount and have launched a “Peter’s Pence” campaign by which readers can collect the spare change off their dresser tops and send it to him to help make up some of the extra $850 million (“Workplace Watch”, NAM, April; Daniel LeDuc, “Md., Angelos Reach Tobacco Fee Deal”, Washington Post, Mar. 22). (DURABLE LINK)
April 10 — “Can Pain Treatment Survive Our Addiction to Law?”. After suffering the effects of a partially collapsed lung, writer Jonathan Rauch learns firsthand how much pain sufferers have to lose if our runaway litigation system takes away their access to the revolutionary pain relief medication OxyContin (National Journal/Reason Online, Apr. 6). See also Damien Cave, “No relief”, Salon, Apr. 4; Duane Freese, “In Rx, Who’s To Blame For Abuse?”, TechCentralStation.com, Feb. 14; and earlier reports on this site: Jan. 23-24, 2002, Aug. 7-8 and July 25, 2001. Updates: see May 30, Aug. 27. (DURABLE LINK)
April 8-9 — An eggshell psyche at U.Va. Law. Worst harassment suit of the year? At the University of Virginia, first-year law student Marta Sanchez on Feb. 26 filed “a claim of assault and battery in Albemarle Circuit Court, seeking $25,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages” against Prof. Kenneth Abraham, a nationally prominent scholar in tort law. To quote Wendy McElroy’s summary of the case: “During an introductory program last August, Abraham demonstrated a legal principle known as the ‘egg-shell skull rule’ from Vosburg v. Putney, a case commonly taught in torts classes [in which one child’s minor battery on another unexpectedly causes major harm to the victim]. Abraham announced his intention to show the class of about twenty students how a slight contact could be actionable. Then Abraham briefly touched Sanchez on her fully clothed shoulder. …Former students confirm that the shoulder tapping is a standard part of Abraham’s lesson on Vosburg. Sanchez says the tap flooded her with memories of being terrorized, raped and molested when she was 11 years old and living in her native land of Panama.” “What some would characterize as mere touching to this victim was an extreme event,” said Sanchez’s lawyer, Steven Rosenfield. “What makes it different is that she was the victim at the hands of men in the past.” (DURABLE LINK)
SOURCES: Nick Denton, “University student sues law professor”, Cavalier Daily, Mar. 27; AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Mar. 26; Wendy McElroy, FoxNews.com, Apr. 2; Justin Park, “Student sues professor”, Virginia Law Weekly, Mar. 22 (PDF); blogs InstaPundit, Mar. 25 and Mar. 26 and DaveTepper.net, Mar. 25.
April 8-9 — Zero tolerance leaves ’em gasping. School districts across the country are decreeing that “students with asthma must keep their emergency inhalers in the school office, rather than on hand.” Better time your attacks for after school, guys (Catherine Seipp, Reason, Apr.). (DURABLE LINK)
April 8-9 — “Former clients sue attorney O’Quinn”. “Twenty former clients of lawyer John O’Quinn are suing him for alleged mishandling of the Kennedy Heights and Chevron contamination settlement, in which they received $12 million instead of the $500 million that he asserted their claims were worth.” Billed at the time as a major “environmental racism” case, the Kennedy Heights litigation asserted that toxic residues had caused cancers and other ailments among the largely African-American residents of the Houston neighborhood, a charge disputed by defendant Chevron. But were the clients really unaware that it’s standard practice for lawyers in this country to talk up a far higher valuation for injury claims than those claims are actually likely to settle for? The former clients also say O’Quinn used his involvement in the Kennedy Heights case for image-buffing purposes to help beat a 1998 disciplinary rap. “A similar [pending] lawsuit was filed in 1999 by about 80 former plaintiffs who were Kennedy Heights residents claiming O’Quinn allegedly shortchanged them on a settlement.” (Jo Ann Zuniga, Houston Chronicle, Apr. 3). In 1999, when former breast implant clients filed a complaint against O’Quinn, the combative litigator struck back with a libel suit against the women’s lawyer which resulted in a quick gag order shutting down the story (see Aug. 4, 1999). (DURABLE LINK)
April 8-9 — Traffic-cams: Volokh v. Labash. UCLA law prof Eugene Volokh, in a contrarian vein, ventures to defend the red-light cameras that some cities use to generate speeding tickets, arguing that if they are operated in a non-abusive way they hold out promise of being more objective than traffic cops (“The Cameras Are Watching — And It’s a Good Thing”, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 26, reprinted at author’s site). However, Matt Labash’s new investigation for the Weekly Standard shows that the use of cameras in practice has been anything but free from error and abuse (example: cities’ propensity to shorten the duration of yellow lights to bolster revenues). There will be little reason to trust the system’s integrity so long as cities go on letting a contractor run the program in exchange for a share of ticket revenues: as we’re always emphasizing on this site, contingency fees and trustworthy law enforcement just don’t mix (see Sept. 6, 2001) (Matt Labash, “Inside’s the District’s Red Lights”, Weekly Standard, Apr. 1; “The Yellow Menace”, Apr. 2; “The Safety Myth”, Apr. 3; “Getting Rear-Ended by the Law”, Apr. 4; “Fighting the Good Fight”, Apr. 5). (Update/correction: the original post named Lockheed Martin as the contractor in charge of the program, but a reader advises us (see letter, Apr. 19) that Lockheed sold its photo traffic-enforcement division to Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas, Texas on August 24, 2001; we have corrected the text accordingly). (DURABLE LINK)
April 5-7 — Right to yell “fire”. In Denver, Claudia Huntey is suing her landlord, which she says violated disability-rights law when it evicted her. “She was cruelly thrown out of her apartment solely because she makes involuntary vocalizations due to her Tourette’s syndrome,” said her attorney, John Holland, who said the apartment managers should have made greater efforts to accommodate Huntey’s condition after repeated complaints from other residents of the complex. “What happened to Claudia Huntey is a societal wake-up call reminding us that this continuing struggle is far from over,” said Holland. For neighbors, the wake-up calls were of a different nature: Huntey suffers from more than usually intense symptoms of Tourette’s, as a result of which “[t]he intensity of the constant, involuntary sounds cause her ribs and chest muscles to ache, and she is chronically hoarse from yelling. … For reasons she does not understand, Huntey most often says or yells, ‘Fire!'”. (Sue Lindsay, “Tourette’s sufferer sues, charging unfair eviction”, Rocky Mountain News, Apr. 4). (DURABLE LINK)
April 5-7 — From the grave, instructions to sue. Brooksville, Fla.: “A woman who hanged herself in jail while waiting to face charges in her husband’s death asked in a suicide note that her lawyer sue the jail for allowing her to die. … [Laren] Sims, 36, was awaiting extradition to California to face charges of killing her attorney husband, Larry McNabney, and burying him in a vineyard. ‘My impression is she’s got a scam going even in death,’ said San Joaquin County prosecutor Lester Fleming, who was trying to extradite Sims to California. ‘It’s just an amazingly cold-blooded note.'” (“California woman accused in husband’s murder urged suit based on suicide”, AP/Boston Globe, Apr. 4). (DURABLE LINK)
April 5-7 — Avoid having a medical emergency in Mississippi. The malpractice-suit crisis in the Magnolia State just keeps getting worse: “The Mississippi Trauma Advisory Committee has suspended re-inspection of its hospitals for a year to give health officials time to address the growing problem of surgeons leaving the system.” The state legislature, in which trial lawyer-legislators occupy strategic positions (see June 15, 2001), adjourned without heeding the doctors’ plea for legal relief. (“Mississippi in trauma crisis as surgeons leave”, AP/Memphis Commercial Appeal, Mar. 19)(& see Jun. 3-4, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)
April 5-7 — Advice the whole country could use. P. J. O’Rourke, reviewing two etiquette books: “[M]uch of their advice [the “Etiquette Grrls”] is needed by the entire nation: ”It is much, much more polite simply to tell someone ‘See you in hell’ than ‘See you in court.”’ (New York Times Book Review, Mar. 24). Also: Michael Kinsley on suing as “our national sport” (scroll to near end) (“Social Hypochondria”, Washington Post, Mar. 1). And: author Philip Howard (The Death of Common Sense) is launching a new organization called the Coalition for the Common Good that will gather participants from across the political spectrum in an effort to curb legal excess (Michael Barone, “The Common Good”, U.S. News, Mar. 25; Stuart Taylor, Jr., “How More Rights Have Made Us Less Free”, National Journal/The Atlantic, Feb. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
April 3-4 — High court nixes back pay for illegal aliens. Last week, in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote ruled that illegal aliens can’t collect damages for being fired from jobs it was never lawful for them to hold (Gina Holland, “Supreme Court Restricts Illegal Workers’ Rights in Employment Cases”, AP/Law.com, Mar. 28; see Oct. 28, 1999). Our editor has a new piece out in National Review Online today (Wed.) expressing relief that for the moment at least the country will be free of this absurdity. (Walter Olson, “A Wink Too Far”, Apr. 3). For a contrasting view, here are the editorialists at the San Francisco Chronicle (“Green light for abuse”, Apr. 2).
April 3-4 — “Addictive” computer game blamed for suicide. 21-year-old Shawn Woolley of Hudson, Wisc. played the popular online game EverQuest a whole lot. Then he committed suicide. Now his mother Elizabeth says she plans to sue Sony Online Entertainment, saying the game should have come with a warning label concerning its “addictive” nature, and she’s lined up attorney Jack Thompson, veteran of earlier litigation attacks on videogame companies (see, for example, July 22, 1999). A psychiatrist had diagnosed Shawn with depression and schizoid personality disorder which “fed right into the EverQuest playing,” claims Mrs. Woolley. “It was the perfect escape.” A specialist in “computer addiction” appears on cue in the article, as if summoned by the lawyer, to say that “The manufacturer of EverQuest purposely made it in such a way that it is more intriguing to the addict” and that it “could be created in a less addictive way, but (that) would be the difference between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine.” Moreover, “[h]aving low self-esteem or poor body image are also important factors, he said.” (Stanley A. Miller II, “Death of a game addict”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 30) (and see letter to the editor from attorney Jack Thompson, Apr. 11). (DURABLE LINK)
April 3-4 — Microsoft case and AG contributions. Columnist Robert Novak rather rudely totes up the very considerable contributions that Microsoft’s rivals have been making to the campaigns of state attorneys general like Bill Lockyer in California and Carla Stovall in Kansas, both of whom are running for governor (Robert Novak, “Money driving Microsoft case?”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 1) (& see Apr. 15). Blogger Ed Driscoll reminds us that AGs also have another constituency that wants them to keep the pressure on Redmond, namely trial lawyers who stand to gain a fortune from the private suits against the company (Mar. 31; see Jeff Taylor, “Symposium: Microsoft Endgame?”, National Review Online, Nov. 5, 2001).
April 3-4 — Ninth Circuit orders Agent Orange payments. The federal appeals court that does so much to provide this site with material has ordered that Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and later contracted prostate cancer and diabetes be given disability payments, “setting a precedent that could cover many illnesses linked to the defoliant.” (“Some Agent Orange Veterans Win Payments”, Reuters/New York Times, Apr. 2). The problem remains that health authorities are by no means agreed that the compound had anything to do with those ailments or most of the others complained of. (Howard Feinberg, “Vetting Agent Orange”, TechCentralStation.com, Mar. 11; Reason links, Feb. 28) (see Jan. 7-8).
April 1-2 — Intel Corp. versus yoga foundation. For more than a year lawyers for giant chipmaker Intel Corp. have been menacing the Yoga Inside Foundation of Venice, Calif., claiming that the nonprofit group’s name infringes on its own “Intel Inside” trademark. “Yoga Inside has nothing to do with computers. It provides free yoga classes in schools, treatment facilities, shelters, prisons and underprivileged communities.” Founder Mark Stephens says the similarity of the slogans “never even crossed my mind” until the company complained. Because of the large sums it has spent to promote its trademark, “Intel argues, the linguistic construction ‘(Blank) Inside,’ whether concerning state-of-the-art technology or a centuries-old spiritual practice, should uniquely belong to the chipmaker.” As for the bad karma to be had in picking on a little group like this, “We’re certainly sensitive about that,” said Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. “But our hands are tied because of the way the law is structured”. (David Lazarus, “Intel forces yoga group to fight for its name”, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 29; Slashdot thread) (DURABLE LINK)
April 1-2 — No more ANZAC Day marches? Australia has rapidly Americanized its liability system and is now paying the price in the form of a drying up of insurance for local events such as ANZAC Day, which honors veterans. “Federal Assistant Treasurer Helen Coonan called [a Mar. 27] forum to share ideas after a series of community events had to be cancelled because of the insurance crisis. … Earlier, Senator Coonan said it was common sense to restrict the ability of those injured while drunk, drug-affected or committing a crime to sue for compensation.” (“States thrash out insurance crisis”, AAP/News.com, Mar. 27; “Quick insurance savings ruled out”, AAP, Mar. 27). With medical claims spiraling, New South Wales health minister Craig Knowles has warned that the nation’s “main medical malpractice insurer could collapse within weeks”, which could leave 60 percent of Australia’s doctors “uninsured for private practice work, and throw the health system into chaos”. (Mark Robinson, “Doctors’ insurer on brink of collapse”, Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 22). (DURABLE LINK)
April 1-2 — Roger Parloff on 9/11 fund. “If the victims may have no viable claim in the tort system after all, because no one was really at fault for their deaths other than the terrorists, then why must a compassion-driven, taxpayer-financed fund pay what the tort system might theoretically have extracted from a totally hypothetical, deep-pocketed, unambiguously guilty defendant? … [Critiques of the Feinberg proposals as insufficiently generous] demonstrate the otherworldly sense of entitlement that the tort system now fosters.
“In setting up an alternative to the tort system, Congress made an admission that cannot be retracted. … What they said, in essence, was this: In all probability, skilled plaintiffs’ lawyers representing sympathetic victims would convince juries that the airlines were responsible for what happened. That’s because plaintiffs’ lawyers have become expert at redirecting blame from judgment-proof targets toward minimally blameworthy, solvent targets. We all know that such ‘fault’ is, to some degree, a fiction. It’s just a compassionate way to ensure that grievously injured, inadequately insured people get taken care of. The trouble is, when catastrophes get big enough, not even corporate entities are sufficiently deep-pocketed to pay without other innocent human beings suffering as a result. In blaming and bankrupting the airlines — or the private security firms, or the airports, or the municipalities that operate them, or Boeing Corporation, or any of the other usual suspects — we will obviously be scapegoating minimally blameworthy corporations for the nation’s universal unpreparedness. In so doing, we will be creating new waves of innocent victims: airline employee-shareholders who, like Enron’s, see their retirement funds vaporize; public and private employees who are thrown out of work; local residents whose public services deteriorate and whose taxes rise when their local municipal authorities in New York, New Jersey, or Boston go broke.” So now how about applying those lessons in other areas of mass tort litigation? (Roger Parloff, “Tortageddon”, The American Lawyer, Mar. 18). (DURABLE LINK)
April 1-2 — Gary & Co. shenanigans at Maris trial. Last August, after a three-month trial, a Gainesville, Fla. state court jury awarded the family of late baseball star Roger Maris $50 million against Anheuser-Busch Inc. in a dispute over the termination of a beer distributorship. The family had earlier lost an antitrust case against the beer company in federal court. They were represented at the August trial by noted Stuart, Fla. attorney Willie Gary (slavery reparations 1, 2, 3, Loewen, Disney, Coke, Gannett, Microsoft, etc.) who joined the family’s legal team two months before trial on a contingency fee basis.
Court records depict the trial, presided over by senior judge R.A. Green Jr., as a veritable carnival of lawyer misconduct. “At the beginning of this trial,” wrote Judge Green, “it became apparent to the court that counsel, primarily plaintiff’s counsel, would ‘press the limits’ of proper conduct and compliance with directives of the court.” Judge Green found two attorneys on Gary’s team, including his co-counsel and partner Madison McClellan, to be in contempt, whicle Gary himself “was ejected from the courtroom at one point and silenced by the judge on another occasion for uttering a profanity”. Moreover, “the Maris legal team sent a private investigator to conduct surveillance on the defense lawyers’ offices”, to which the defense lawyers responded with counter-surveillance. Judge Green then took the highly unusual step of appointing special master Stephen N. Bernstein to conduct a confidential investigation of lawyer misconduct at the trial. In a 35-page report, the special master concluded that the behavior of Gary and the other lawyers was “an insult to the integrity of the legal system,” and “resulted in an atmosphere that elevated tactics in pursuit of opposing counsel over the duty to pursue truth.” (Larry Keller, “Maris Trial Had Its Share of Misbehaving Lawyers”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jan. 28). Updates Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, 2004: (ethics charges against Gary thrown out by judge); Sept. 5, 2005 (case and related litigation settle for sum in excess of $120 million). (DURABLE LINK)
April 1-2 — New traffic records on Overlawyered.com. Our best month ever for number of pages served (March), best week ever (last week) and best day ever (last Wednesday). Thanks for your support!
April 19-21 — Pitcher hit by line drive sues maker of baseball bat. Hurling for the Pittsfield (Ill.) High School baseball team, Daniel Hannant put one over the plate to a batter from opponent Calhoun High School, who smacked the ball in a line drive straight at the pitcher’s mound where it hit Hannant on the head. Now Hannant is suing … guess who? The maker of the baseball bat, Hillerich & Bradsby, known for its trademark Louisville Slugger. (“Lawsuit comes out swinging”, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 18) (& see letter to the editor, Jun. 14; update, Dec. 30). (DURABLE LINK)
April 19-21 — No apologies from RFK Jr. As the uproar continues in Iowa over Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s assertion that large hog-raising operations are more of a threat to American democracy than Osama bin Laden, Kennedy’s office has sent word to the Des Moines Register not to expect an apology or retraction. (Mark Siebert, “Kennedy stands by hog-lot remark”, Apr. 18; J. R. Taylor, “To the Preening Born”, New York Press “Billboard”, Apr. 18; earlier reports on this site Apr. 15, Apr. 17). Far from being an unconsidered slip of the tongue, the comparison seems to have been a feature of Kennedy’s speeches for months, to judge from a report published back in January on another of his Midwestern swings: “This threat is greater than that in Afghanistan,” he was quoted as saying. “This is not only a threat to the environment, it is a threat to the American economy and democracy.” (Gretchen Schlosser, National Hog Farmer, Jan. 15, linked in WSJ OpinionJournal.com “Best of the Web” Jan. 21). And a staff attorney from Kennedy’s office has sent us a letter responding to our editor’s Wednesday New York Post op-ed on the affair, to which we append a fairly lengthy response — see our letters page.
MORE: The food-industry-defense group Center for Consumer Freedom has been on the warpath against Kennedy and his band of lawyers for a while. It quotes Iowa Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge as saying: “The true agenda of this group is to sue farms and take the monetary rewards back to the East Coast.” (“Trashing Pork, Cashing In”, Apr. 11). Kennedy has estimated “damages” against the industry of $13 billion: “We have lawyers with the deepest pockets, and they’ve agreed to fight the industry to the end,” he has said. “We’re going to go after all of them.” (“Kennedy’s Pork Police Hit Iowa”, Apr. 2; “Waterkeepers, Farmers Weepers”, Dec. 12, 2001) “‘We’re starting with hogs. After the hogs, then we are going after the other ones,’ referring to the poultry and beef industries.” (“Warning”, Jan. 16, 2001, citing “Concerns that pork suit may be extended to other areas,” Des Moines Register, Jan. 8, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)
April 19-21 — Traffic-cams, cont’d. In the controversy (see Apr. 8-9) over the uses and abuses of automated traffic camera systems, a reader writes in (see letters page) to say we were wrong to describe Lockheed Martin as the current contractor on the systems; it actually sold the operation last August to another company. Our apologies. And Eugene Volokh reports on his blog (Apr. 17) that he found some inaccuracies in Matt Labash’s Weekly Standard investigative series on the cameras which Labash and the Standard have been happy to correct. See also “Hawaii scraps ‘Talivan’ traffic cameras”, AP/ABC News, Apr. 11. (DURABLE LINK)
April 19-21 — Clipboard-throwing manager = $30 million clipping for grocery chain. The Ralphs supermarket chain in California had a store manager who over the course of a decade “physically and verbally abused six female Ralphs employees by calling them vulgar names, manhandling them, and throwing items like telephones, clipboards and, in one instance, a 30- to 40-pound mailbag, at them.” So a San Diego jury awarded them $5 million each in damages. (Alexei Oreskovic, “$30M Awarded in Sex Harassment Suit Against Grocery Chain”, The Recorder, Apr. 9)(& update Jul. 26-28: judge cuts total award to $8 million). (DURABLE LINK)
April 19-21 — See you … at the Big Apple Blog Bash Friday night. (DURABLE LINK)
April 18 — “Tampa Taliban” mom blames acne drug. By reader acclaim: “The family of 15-year-old Charles Bishop has filed a $70-million lawsuit against the maker of acne medication Accutane, saying nothing else explains the teenager’s suicidal flight into a downtown Tampa high-rise.” Bishop, whose father bore an Arab surname, left a suicide note praising Osama bin Laden; the county medical examiner’s office found no trace of Accutane in his bloodstream, although it says that does not rule out the possibility that he might have been on the medication, for which he had been written a prescription. Although the maker of the widely used acne drug denies that it causes psychosis or suicidal impulses, its cautious consent form “required the Bishops to agree to tell their physician ‘if anyone in the family has ever had symptoms of depression, been psychotic, attempted suicide, or had any other serious mental problems.’ Julia Bishop, however, did not reveal that in 1984, she and Charles’ estranged father failed in a bloody suicide pact during which she stabbed him with a 12-inch butcher knife.” Mrs. Bishop’s lawyer, Michael Ryan of Fort Lauderdale, calls that earlier suicide pact incident “completely irrelevant”. (Robert Farley, “Suit: Drug behind suicide flight”, St. Petersburg Times, Apr. 17; Natashia Gregoire, “Teen Pilot’s Family Sues Drug Maker”, Tampa Tribune, Apr. 17; “Accutane acne drug maker sued over suicide”, USA Today/Reuters, Apr. 16; Broward Liston and Tim Padgett, “Despair Beneath His Wings”, Time, Jan. 13; Howard Feinberg, “Is Accutane to Blame?”, TechCentralStation.com, Apr. 18; see Feb. 1). Updates: manufacturer wins first jury trial (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Suits Probe Acne Drug, Depression”, National Law Journal, Apr. 25; Michael Fumento, “The Accutane Blame Game”, National Review Online, May 9). (DURABLE LINK)
April 18 — Judge compares class action lawyers to “squeegee boys”. A Florida judge has rejected the tentative settlement of a shareholder lawsuit filed by Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach against power company Florida Progress Corp. over a 1999 merger, saying the evidence indicated that the suit did not leave class members in a better position than if it had never been filed. Added Pinellas County Judge W. Douglas Baird: “This action appears to be the class litigation equivalent of the ‘squeegee boys’ who used to frequent major urban intersections and who would run up to a stopped car, splash soapy water on its perfectly clean windshield and expect payment for the uninvited service of wiping it off.” (Jason Hoppin, The Recorder, Apr. 17). (DURABLE LINK)
April 18 — Welcome Humorix.org readers. The Linux-humor site started linking to us way back in 1999, if we remember correctly. Also sending us visitors lately: Auckland (N.Z.) District Law Society, Mar. 14 (“For a change of pace, spend some time with this digest of news stories … Most cases reported on are from the U.S., but there are quite a few examples from Europe, Australia, and elsewhere”); WTIC-AM Hartford, “Morning Links”, Apr. 7; American Civil Rights Union “ACLU Watch”, Nintendominion “Site Unseen”, Mar. 31; Dog Brothers Martial Arts (Hermosa Beach, Calif.), Mutual Reinsurance Bureau, Anne Klockenkemper (Univ. of Florida) Media Law Resources, Smith Freed & Eberhard P.C. (attorneys at law, Portland, Ore.), Univ. of Nevada-Reno Tau Kappa Epsilon, RKKA.org (Russian Red Army-themed wargaming); Fureyous.com, Mar. (“My dream site, a site where I can find the entire downfall of civilization due to frivolous and pathetic lawsuits and legal actions”), and many more. (DURABLE LINK)
April 17 — New York Post op-ed on RFK Jr. & hogs. Our editor has a piece today on the op-ed page of the New York Post about the furor that broke out in Iowa when celebrity environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told a rally that large-scale hog farms are more of a threat to America than Osama bin Laden and his terrorists. For links to the local Iowa coverage, see our item here from Monday, of which the Post op-ed is an expansion. (Walter Olson, “Osama, the Pigs and the Kennedy”, New York Post, Apr. 17).
April 16-17 — Pharmaceutical roundup. The total cost of the settlement over the diet compound fen-phen has ballooned to more than $13 billion, swollen by mass recruitment by law firms of claimants who defendants believe have suffered no ill effects from the compound at all aside from possible worry. “Wyeth’s general counsel, Louis L. Hoynes Jr., said he believes that in a different legal climate his company might have been able to settle all serious claims for less than $1 billion. That would amount to an average of $1 million each for 1,000 cases.” (L. Stuart Ditzen, “Mass diet-pill litigation inflates settlement costs to $13.2 billion”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Apr. 9 — whole article well worth reading). Lawyers for a group of British women have filed what is believed to be the first injury suit over the “third-generation” birth control pill, which they say raises the risk of blood clots, and similar suits are expected to follow in the United States (Mary Vallis, “U.K. suit targets perils of The Pill”, National Post, Mar. 5). In one of the more recent applications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Daubert doctrine, courts have dismissed several lawsuits seeking to blame Pfizer’s anti-impotency drug Viagra for users’ heart attacks, ruling that the expert testimony in the cases was not based on scientific principles that had gained “general acceptance.” (Tom Perrotta, “Viagra Cases Dismissed”, New York Law Journal, Jan. 22). The Nov. 9, 2001 installment of CBS’s “48 Hours” launched a one-sided attack on psychiatric drugs used to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity and told the stories of two parents who say their use of the ADHD drug Adderall caused them to behave irrationally, resulting in the death of their children; but Hudson Institute fellow Michael Fumento finds that much was misstated or left out in the network’s account, including the exact role of the trial lawyers hovering in the background (Michael Fumento, “Prescription for Bias“, “Dawn Marie Branson: A Sad Story Only Half Told“) And although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not chosen to give a green light for the reintroduction of silicone breast implants for American women following the litigation-fueled panic that drove them from the market, they have regained popularity among women in Canada, reports the CBC (“Silicone implants back in style”, Sept. 20, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)
April 16-17 — A DMCA run-in. Tom Veal’s Stromata site, which covers topics ranging from pension regulation to science fiction, had a run-in a few days ago with its hosting service, Tripod, which abruptly closed down access to the site and then took its sweet time about reopening it. The reason? Tripod had received a nastygram from a law firm charging that Stromata was in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, not because it had posted any copyrighted material itself, but because it had linked to another site which had (it said) posted an unauthorized translation of a widely discussed piece on terrorism by Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. Unfortunately, as Veal notes, the incentives under DMCA are for hosts to muzzle speech in haste and un-muzzle at leisure. (“Et Cetera”, Apr. 9). (DURABLE LINK)
April 16-17 — Unlikely critic of litigation. The Washington group Judicial Watch files lawsuits at a manic clip, but now its founder Larry Klayman is taking to the mails to decry our national problem of excessive litigiousness. “One may liken the overall effect of Klayman’s direct-mail sermon against frivolous lawsuits to that of a Weight Watchers commercial starring Marlon Brando or a temperance lecture given by Hunter S. Thompson.” (Tim Noah, “Larry Klayman Decries Evils of Litigation!”, Slate, Apr. 3). (DURABLE LINK)
April 15 — RFK Jr. blasted for hog farm remarks. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the highest-profile spokesman for the developing alliance between trial lawyers and some environmentalist groups (see Dec. 7, 2000), “made an ass of himself” in remarks last weekend at a Clear Lake, Ia. rally, according to veteran Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen. Kennedy’s “statement that large-scale hog producers were a bigger threat to America than Osama bin Laden’s terrorists has to be one of the crudest things ever said in Iowa politics. … [Kennedy] brought his Waterkeeper’s Alliance for a rally [in Clear Lake]. It’s a group that is threatening lawsuits against livestock industries. … Rural America needs positive solutions to this problem, not the corrosive rhetoric of another out-of-state political operative or lawsuits from greedy trial lawyers. … What was one of the finest hours of this legislative session was marred by this fool from the East. … Kennedy looks to be cashing in on his family’s name. … If his name were Bob Fitzgerald, he’d be dismissed as another one of the kooks on the fringe of this debate.” Other reaction was not much more favorable: “‘You have to be a complete wandering idiot to make that statement,’ said [Luke] Kollasch [of Algona, Ia.], whose family owns several hog farms and feed and construction companies in northwest Iowa.” (Donnelle Elder, “Big hog lots called greater threat than bin Laden”, Des Moines Register, Apr. 10; “Kennedy’s outrageous rhetoric” (editorial), Apr. 11; David Yepsen, “Kennedy cashes in on family name while acting like a fool”, Apr. 14) (DURABLE LINK)
April 15 — Updates. Stories that seem to have a life of their own:
* Richard Espinosa, “who is suing the city of Escondido because his dog was attacked by a cat inside a city library, now says the attack was a hate crime.” (see Dec. 4, 2001) (“Cat attack now described as hate crime”, MSNBC, Apr. 5)
* “The Florida Legislature has partially undone a landmark Florida Supreme Court ruling issued in November that gave slip-and-fall injury victims the upper hand in lawsuits against supermarkets and other premises owners.” (see Jan. 7). The ruling had required businesses to prove they were not negligent when presented with slip-fall claims. However, trial lawyers extracted a compromise in which plaintiffs will not have to prove that a slippery material was on the floor for long enough for the store owner to have known about it. (Susan R. Miller, “Florida Legislature Passes Bill on Slip-and-Fall Cases”, Miami Daily Business Review, Mar. 27).
* “A Hays County judge has thrown out a default judgment that would have awarded $5 million to a local woman whose near-topless image was used in a national television ad for a ‘Wild Party Girls’ video without her permission. … Judge Charles Ramsay set aside the default judgment, ruling that the plaintiff had listed the wrong company in the lawsuit, and that the video’s makers were not either properly named or properly served.” (see Mar. 6-7) (Carol Coughlin, “Topless suit is groundless, judge rules”, San Marcos (Tex.) Daily Record, Mar. 30).
* More on the symbiotic relationship between state attorneys general and Microsoft competitors (see Apr. 3-4): “An April 2000 e-mail message from the Utah attorney general’s office to Novell, revealed in court, asked for ‘guidance … preferably without involving too many people seeing this language.'” (Declan McCullagh, “Report: MS Foes Bribed Attorneys”, Wired News, Apr. 6). (DURABLE LINK)
April 12-14 — Hey, no fair talking about the pot. During a 20-hour trip from California to Texas pulling a U-Haul trailer, three young women work their way through a bag of marijuana. Of course the ensuing rollover accident is, like, practically totally the fault of their Firestone tires and the U-Haul company, or at least so their lawyers argue in a suit against those companies, even though the tires did not suffer the “tread separation” that has heretofore been seen as the distinctive source of accident risk with the now-recalled Firestones. Now Matagorda County, Tex. Judge Craig Estlinbaum has declared a mistrial at the request of plaintiff’s lawyer Mikal Watts who complained that defense attorney Morgan Copeland “had breached a pretrial order by introducing detailed evidence of marijuana use” during the trip. If we read the AP story correctly, Judge Estlinbaum had ruled that the defense could mention only that portion of the marijuana it could prove the driver consumed, and attorney Copeland, who may now face sanctions in the famously pro-plaintiff county, had improperly let jurors know about the whole bag. The Ford Motor Co. was also named as a defendant but has already settled out of the case (“Texas judge declares mistrial in Firestone case”, Yahoo/ Reuters, Apr. 5; Pam Easton, “Judge declares Firestone mistrial”, AP/ MySanAntonio.com, Apr. 6). Update — additional coverage of ruling: Miriam Rozen, “Mistrial declared in Firestone case”, Texas Lawyer, Apr. 15).
April 12-14 — In the line of fire. Post-Enron, many companies feel the need to seek out savvier and more experienced executives to sit on boards and audit committees, but with escalating fears of personal liability “attracting talent may become nearly impossible. ‘Recruiting directors for the audit committee is like calling them on deck for a kamikaze attack,’ quips [corporate finance officer Bob] Williamson.” (Marie Leone, “Audit Committee? Thanks, But No Thanks”, CFO Magazine, Apr. 5).
April 12-14 — L.A. police sued, and sued. The family of the late James Allen Beck, who died in a fiery shootout with L.A. sheriff’s deputies last August after barricading himself in his home, has filed a wrongful death claim against the sheriff’s department. During the standoff Beck, an ex-police officer with a history of stockpiling weapons at his home, shot and killed Deputy Hagop Kuredjian. (“Mother of gunman who died in shootout files claim”, Sacramento Bee, Apr. 10)(& see Feb. 23, 2000). And: “Heirs of the late rap star Notorious B.I.G. have filed a wrongful death and federal civil rights lawsuit against Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks, two former chiefs and the city of Los Angeles, claiming they did not do enough to prevent the rapper’s death five years ago in a drive-by shooting.” (“Notorious B.I.G. heirs sue LAPD, officials, city”, CNN, Apr. 11).
April 11 — Don’t ban therapeutic cloning. Though not usually the petition-signing types, we (our editor) have signed a petition being circulated by Virginia Postrel’s just-launched Franklin Society opposing the current stampede in Congress to ban all scientific use of cloned human cells including “therapeutic” (non-reproductive) uses, and even the use of imported pharmaceuticals developed via such methods (see “Criminalizing Science” (symposium), Reason, Nov.). If you agree with us that this proposed law is a bad idea, you can sign the petition here and view the list of distinguished signers: despite efforts in some conservative quarters to hand down a party line opposing this potentially life-saving branch of biomedical research, support for it in fact cuts across the political spectrum. For information on contacting elected representatives, see InstaPundit, Apr. 10. (DURABLE LINK)
April 11 — Texas doctors’ work stoppage. Monday’s one-day work stoppage by South Texas doctors outraged at spiraling malpractice costs (see Mar. 15-17) drew national attention (“Texas docs protest malpractice claims”, AP/CNN, Apr. 8; see also Dean Reynolds, “Crushing Cost of Insurance”, ABCNews.com, Mar. 5 (Nev., Pa.)). And a Florida physician has launched an insurance policy for doctors “that aims to provide them with the legal resources they would need to countersue lawyers or expert witnesses filing frivolous lawsuits”. (Tanya Albert, “Frivolous suits feel wrath of Medical Justice”, American Medical News, Feb. 11). (DURABLE LINK)
April 11 — Batch of reader letters. Topics include the “pedal-extender” suit against Ford; OxyContin; suing food companies for waistline problems; police getting ticketed while responding to calls; laws mandating handicap accessibility in private homes; and why schools would send kids home when they have a slight sniffle. One writer upbraids blogger Natalie Solent for thinking it crazy to impose strict product liability on British blood suppliers that currently offer their services free of charge to patients; he thinks she (and by extension we) must not have stopped to consider that blood transfusions can transmit lethal diseases like AIDS and hepatitis.
Best of all, we hear from attorney Jack Thompson, the anti-videogame crusader who has just filed a lawsuit claiming that Sony’s EverQuest game is responsible for the suicide of a user, and he turns out to be every bit as suave and ingratiating as we dared hope (“go to Afghanistan where your anarchist, pro-drug views will be greatly rewarded”), though we wonder whether he caught the phrase “as if” in our original Apr. 3 posting. Mr. Thompson will probably not appreciate Eugene Volokh’s new satirical piece for TechCentralStation.com (“Worse than Internet Addiction”, Apr. 10). (DURABLE LINK)
April 29-30 — “Gunning for manufacturers through courts”. “A NYC council member is seeking to limit access to guns in NYC even more by opening the door to lawsuits against gun manufacturers who don’t follow a ‘corporate code of conduct’. David Yassky, a former law professor and aide for Chuck Schumer when he was a congressman, received money from 189 attorneys and others of his ‘social class’ in his successful campaign for Council, and filed an amicus brief in the US vs Emerson case encouraging a finding that in the 2nd Amendment, ‘bear arms’ meant for military use only.” (“Gunning for manufacturers through courts”, “Cut on the Bias” blog (Susanna Cornett), Apr. 22; “Metro Briefing: New York”, New York Times, Apr. 22).
On a happier note, the city of Boston last month dropped its extortionate lawsuit against the gun industry (David Abel, “Gun control forces say suits to go on”, Boston Globe, Mar. 29; “Mayor was right to drop gun case” (editorial), Boston Herald, Mar. 29 (“This case was frankly a publicity stunt — an expensive publicity stunt supposedly in the cause of ‘public health.’ But the roughly $500,000 it cost so far was diverted from other goals.”); “Boston Abandons Lawsuit Against Firearms Manufacturers”, National Shooting Sports Foundation press release, Mar. 28). (DURABLE LINK)
April 29-30 — “Erin Brockovich, the Brand”. “She gets confused with Heather Locklear and Suzanne Somers. … Over the course of last year, she became the most popular public-speaking client in the William Morris stable.” For newer readers, here’s our take. (Austin Bunn, New York Times Magazine, Apr. 28). (DURABLE LINK)
April 29-30 — Lawyers for chimps? “More and more legal reformers … are pressing to give chimpanzees legal standing — specifically, the ability to have suits filed in their names and to ask courts to protect their interests. … The advocates of granting legal standing to chimps have gained support from constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor.” (David Bank, “A Harvard Professor Lobbies to Save U.S. Chimps From Monkey Business”, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 25 (online subscribers only); “Monkeying Around With the Constitution”, Ribstone Pippin blog, Apr. 25; InstaPundit, Apr. 25) (& see May 14-15). (DURABLE LINK)
April 29-30 — “Targeting “big food'”. The “campaign against Big Food is following the attack on Big Tobacco almost to a ‘T.’ … Any day now, I expect to hear that Big Food has secretly been adding special ingredients with known health risks — like salt — to their products for years to tempt the ignorant.” (Bruce Bartlett, “Targeting ‘big food'”, National Center for Policy Analysis opinion editorial, Apr. 3). It is already being argued that obesity, like smoking, imposes costs through health care provision on the non-obese, allegedly justifying more intensive government regulation of lifestyle choices (Pierre Lemieux, “It’s the Fat Police,” National Post (Canada), Apr. 6). And a 1998 revision by the federal government of its Body Mass Index standards more or less ensures that a large portion of the population will be considered to be suffering from a weight problem; according to the index, NCAA basketball stars Lonny Baxter of Maryland, Oklahoma’s Aaron McGhee, Kansas’s Nick Collision and Indiana’s Tom Coverdale are all considered “overweight” and in need of more exercise. (“Husky hoops stars?”, Center for Consumer Freedom, Mar. 27). (DURABLE LINK)
April 26-28 — “Positive Nicotine Test To Keep Student From Prom”. In Hartford City, Ind., Blackford High School has banned senior Rob Mahon, 18, from the senior prom after he tested positive for nicotine in a random drug test. Mahon, who is the editor of the school newspaper, “did not smoke on school property and is upset that he’s being punished for an activity that is legal for someone his age.” School officials, however, said that Mahon “knew the rules prohibiting drugs, alcohol and nicotine before he agreed to the testing that’s required for those in extracurricular activities.” The Indiana Civil Liberties Union is planning to represent him in a legal challenge. (TheIndyChannel.com, Apr. 25). Update May 10-12: school backs down. (DURABLE LINK)
April 26-28 — “Support case hinges on failed sterilization”. An attorney for plaintiff Heather Seslar is attempting to convince the Indiana Supreme Court that the doctor whose effort to sterilize Seslar fell short, with the result that she became pregnant and gave birth to a healthy baby girl, should pay for the entire cost of raising the child to adulthood. “A lower court already has sided with Seslar. Unless the Supreme Court overturns that decision, Indiana would become the fifth state to grant parents who underwent sterilization the right to sue doctors for the costs of raising an unexpected child. California, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin also recognize the right.” (Vic Ryckaert, Indianapolis Star, Apr. 4). (DURABLE LINK)
April 26-28 — Columbia Law School survey on public attitude toward lawyers. A new nationwide survey commissioned by Columbia Law School asked a thousand respondents nationwide what they thought of the profession. It “contains some disheartening news for lawyers. … A full sixty percent of respondents said lawyers are overpaid, compared with a mere two percent who thought lawyers underpaid.” Thirty-nine percent considered lawyers either especially dishonest or somewhat dishonest, while 31 percent found them especially honest or somewhat honest, which left them faring better than politicians in the honesty ratings but sharply worse than police. Finally, respondents were asked: “Do you believe that lawyers do more harm than good by filing lawsuits that may raise the cost of doing business, or do they perform a beneficial role by holding big companies accountable to the law?” The wording of this question is decidedly peculiar — its first half, for example, states the case critical of trial lawyers about as ineptly as it is possible to do — and yet the side holding that lawyers “perform a beneficial role” prevailed by only a fifty to forty-one percent margin. (Michael C. Dorf, “Can the Legal Profession Improve Its Image?”, FindLaw, Apr. 17). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25 — “Disability rights attorney accused of having inaccessible office”. “The attorney who sued Clint Eastwood over disability accommodations at his hotel near Carmel was himself sued Tuesday on allegations his office bathroom was not wheelchair friendly. The federal suit was brought by George Louie, executive director of Oakland-based Americans with Disabilities Advocates. He alleges the bathroom and other amenities at attorney Paul Rein’s office in Oakland violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.” (AP/Contra Costa Times, Apr. 23)(see Oct. 2, 2000, Sept. 21, 2000 and links from there). Update: the allegations, which Rein vigorously contested, were later dropped without payment, according to court records (Joy Lanzendorfer, “Enforced Compliance”, MetroActive, Dec. 26, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25 — Mold sweepstakes: You May Already Be a Winner. “Entertainer Ed McMahon is suing his insurance company for more than $20 million, alleging that he was sickened by toxic mold that spread through his Beverly Hills house after contractors cleaning up water damage from a broken pipe botched the job.” (“Ed McMahon sues over mold, says dog died”, Los Angeles Times/ AZCentral.com, Apr. 9). Buyers of homeowners’ insurance may wind up among the losers: “State Farm, the largest insurer in California representing 22 percent of the market, decided last week that it would no longer write new homeowner policies in the state starting May 1. While that’s partly due to past losses, it’s also in large part due to the rising cost of mold-related claims. … In Texas, which has had the most claims increases [over mold] in the nation, rates have already nearly doubled for many homeowners.” (Deborah Lohse, “Mold becomes toxic issue to homeowners, insurers”, San Jose Mercury News, Apr. 23). Mold claims “could be the next asbestos. Yes, there’s a bit of difference: Asbestos fibers are known to cause disease and death. Whether household mold can do so is, to put it charitably, a matter of debate. But that hasn’t slowed the litigation over mold.” (Mary Ellen Egan, “The Fungus that Ate Sacramento,” Forbes, Jan. 21). Update May 21, 2003: McMahon’s claim said to have reaped $7 million settlement.
TEXAS MOLD LINKFEST: “Insurers estimate they paid out $670 million for mold-related property damage in Texas in 2001, more than double the total in 1999.” (Egan, Forbes, link above). See (all links 2001:) Jacob Sullum, “Fungi phobia”, TownHall.com, Aug. 21 (the wonderfully named Dripping Springs case); Bill Summers, “Mold cases could have a rotten effect”, San Antonio Express News, Oct. 18, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform; Eric Berger, “Mold Fears Overblown, Experts Say”, Houston Chronicle, July 12; CALA Houston links; Shannon Buggs, “Tackling Questions on Mold Coverage”, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 18; W. Gardner Selby, San Antonio Express News, “Coverage cut under review”, Nov. 13. (DURABLE LINK)
April 25 — Durbin’s electability. Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, a key Capitol Hill ally of the trial lawyers (he was the point man in defense of their unconscionable fees in the tobacco affair, for example), ran less well in his recent primary than incumbents usually do. Could he be headed for one-term status, like former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun? (Steve Neal, “Durbin lacks the profile of a winner”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 24)(see July 7, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)
April 23-24 — Fieger’s ivied walls. Controversial attorney Geoffrey Fieger is in the news again after losing a murder case for a client in Sarasota, Fla.: “Chief Circuit Judge Thomas Gallen said Fieger should be punished for calling two men who served on the jury ‘Nazis’ and ‘creeps.’ Fieger fired back, saying he has a First Amendment right to say bad things about jurors and that he may sue the judge for saying otherwise. Gallen said the Michigan lawyer’s ‘outrageous’ behavior violated a Florida Bar rule that says an attorney ‘shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of’ court officials and jurors.” Fieger client Ralf Panitz, 42, “was convicted March 26 of killing his ex-wife, Nancy Campbell, on July 24, 2000, the same day he, Campbell and his new wife appeared on an episode of the ‘Jerry Springer Show.'” (Jennifer Sullivan, “Attorney, judge in war of words”, Manatee (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, Apr. 2).
Civility disputes involving Fieger are of course a staple item on this site. Last year, for example (see May 3, 2001), he faced a probe before the state attorney grievance commission following reports that he used his radio show to unleash “an obscenity-laced tirade” against three state appeals judges. For more examples of the Southfield, Mich.-based attorney’s style, see Sept. 14, 1999 and May 31, 2001. So it came as a bit of a shock to learn that the litigator’s name is now going to be adorning a prominent Michigan institution of legal education. According to Michigan State University’s law school, “Fieger has made a gift of $4 million to initiate and sustain the Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute,” billed as “the first trial practice institute at a law school designed specifically to train law students as successful trial lawyers.”
Rising to the dignity of the occasion in a press release, MSU-DCL dean and professor Terence Blackburn endorsed the school’s new benefactor in language well suited for a client recruitment brochure. “Mr. Fieger is arguably the most preeminent [sic] trial lawyer in the country, and he is an inspiration to our students,” Blackburn said. “It is Mr. Fieger’s dedication to his clients, his thorough preparation for each case and his skill in the courtroom that serve as a model for this institute.” (“Fieger’s $4 Million Gift To Law College at MSU Establishes Nation’s First Trial Practice Institute for Law Students”, MSU news release, Nov. 27; “$4 million gift to MSU-DCL funds trial practice institute”, MSU News, Dec. 6; “Fieger’s gift”, Lansing State Journal, Nov. 29 (defense of grant); letter from concerned alum, Detroit Free Press, Nov. 28). Last year the Detroit Free Press found Fieger unapologetic about charges by his opponents that he bullies and badgers witnesses on the stand. (Dawson Bell, “Fieger’s wins lose luster in appeals”, Detroit Free Press, May 29). “‘Trials are battles,’ Fieger said. Intimidating witnesses ‘is what trial attorneys do,’ he said.” Can we assume that it will therefore be a skill taught at the new institute? (DURABLE LINK)
April 23-24 — “Woman sues snack-food company for spoiling diet”. By reader acclaim: “A woman is suing a snack food company for $50 million saying its label on Pirate’s Booty corn and rice puffs foiled her diet. … Pirate’s Booty, manufactured by Robert’s American Gourmet Food, Inc., was recalled in January after the Good Housekeeping Institute found it contained 147 calories and 8.5 grams of fat, while its label said it contained only 120 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.” Now Meredith Berkman, 37, is suing claiming the mislabeling caused her to suffer “emotional distress” and “weight gain…mental anguish, outrage and indignation.” (AP/Salon, Apr. 13). Update: Feb. 9, 2006 (Berkman objects to settlement). (DURABLE LINK)
April 23-24 — Norway toy-ad crackdown. Yes, reports Bjorn Staerk on his blog (Mar. 25, Apr. 2), the Scandinavian country really does have an Ombudsman for Gender Equality whose apparent duties include monitoring sexism in toy ads, and yes, this ombudsman really is proposing to ban a particular toy ad which refers to boys as “tough”. (DURABLE LINK)
April 22 — Lawyers puree Big Apple. Figures from the City of New York’s fiscal year 2000 show that the city paid a record $459 million in judgments and settlements, a 10.5 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. $406 million of that figure was laid out on personal injury claims, up 11.5 percent from fiscal 1999. (Elaine Song, “Costs Climb for the City”, New York Law Journal, Mar. 21; “New York Sees Higher Verdicts in 2001”, New York Law Journal, Mar. 21; “Tort City, U.S.A.” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Apr. 17 (online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)
April 22 — “How to Stuff a Wild Enron”. P.J. O’Rourke gives a flat tire to the pols and pundits who’ve tried to get anti-capitalist mileage out of the Enron scandal (The Atlantic, Apr.).
MORE ENRON LINKS: C. William (Bill) Thomas, “The Rise and Fall of the Enron Empire”, Texas Society of CPAs (via Political Hobbyist, who generously names us “one of the more famous blogs out there in the blogosphere“); Renee Deger, “Widening the Enron Net”, The Recorder, Apr. 9 (law firms, investment banks sued); Laura Goldberg, “Enron plaintiffs target bankers’ deep pockets”, Houston Chronicle, Apr. 5; Otis Bilodeau, “Gimme Shelter”, Legal Times, Apr. 16 (“In a worst-case scenario — where damages are so high that the firm itself goes bankrupt — partners in a general partnership could be forced to pay off the damage award over their entire careers.”); Renee Deger, “Leaning on the Lawyers”, The Recorder, Apr. 15; (prospects for Vinson & Elkins, Kirkland & Ellis); “Lerach’s Enron Sweep” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Apr. 17 (online subscribers only); bloggers “Robert Musil” Apr. 14 and other dates, “Max Power” Apr. 10. (DURABLE LINK)
April 22 — “St- st- st- st- stop.” “A man with a stutter was turned down as a driving instructor by the British School of Motoring because he couldn’t say ‘stop’ fast enough in an emergency”. Mr. Arsenal Whittick, 39, has filed a complaint with an employment tribunal charging disability discrimination. (“Stutterer turned down as driving instructor”, Evening Standard, Apr. 11)(via andrewsullivan.com, from which our headline is also swiped). And Dave Kopel, analyzing the pending Supreme Court case of Chevron v. Echabazal (can employers exclude physically vulnerable workers from jobs that might kill them? — see Mar. 1), includes a very kind reference to this site. (National Review Online, Mar. 27). (DURABLE LINK)
April 21 — Social notes from all over: New York Blog Bash. It isn’t easy to get our editor over to Avenue B, but he brings back a glowing report of the Friday night event hosted by the formidable duo of Orchid and Asparagirl and with econ-blog-diva Megan McArdle in attendance. Not only were those present uniformly agreeable to converse with, but their weblogs — see the RSVP list at Daily Dose for a not quite complete list — collectively make for an afternoon’s browse that’s about 8,500% percent more enjoyable and stimulating than is afforded by, say, the Sunday New York Times. Update: photos courtesy Asparagirl (our editor is the one with the beard and dark clothes). (DURABLE LINK)
March 30-April 1 — Gary to Gannett: pay up for that investigative reporting. In December 1998 the Pensacola, Fla. News Journal published a investigative series alleging that a Lake City business by the name of Anderson Columbia pulled political strings to evade environmental and other rules while obtaining lucrative state road contracts. Now noted plaintiff’s lawyer Willie Gary (key cases: Loewen, Disney, Coke, reparations 1, 2) has been retained by Anderson Columbia and is demanding $1.5 billion, which far exceeds the value of the newspaper itself, in a libel suit against the News Journal and its parent Gannett. The suit, filed downstate in Fort Lauderdale, “also cites two 1990 stories reporting allegations of environmental damage and poor-quality work and an editorial that last year criticized Escambia County commissioners for their dealings with Anderson Columbia.” (Bill Kaczor, “Gary client sues newspaper, Gannet [sic] Co. for libel, seeks $1.5 billion”, Mar. 23) In other pending cases, Gary is representing bias plaintiffs against Microsoft “and is seeking a $2.5 billion breach-of-contract judgment against beer giant Anheuser-Busch on behalf of the family of former home run king Roger Maris.” The Stuart, Fla. lawyer’s choice of clients in the past has not always matched his populist image: for example, he’s represented Florida’s “fabulously rich” Fanjul family in the defense of a suit charging that its mostly black sugar cane cutters were underpaid. (Harris Meyer, “Willie Gary’s Sugar Daddies”, New Times Broward/Palm Beach, Mar. 25, 1999)
March 30-April 1 — Dangers of complaining about lawyers. “Beware: Accusing your lawyer of wrongdoing soon could be even more intimidating. It could land you in court, running up a legal bill to defend yourself against a defamation lawsuit.” A pending change in Georgia rules would open clients and others who talk to lawyer-discipline authorities to defamation suits from the lawyers they criticize — even if the charges against the lawyer are upheld, and even if the statements are made in private to only a few investigators. Critics say the prospect of being sued for defamation, win or lose, would chill legitimate complaints, while bar official David Lipscomb says it’s a difference between two philosophies: “One is you allow a few lies to encourage people to file complaints,” he says. “And the other is you should hold people to a standard of truth, and if that chills some of the complaints, then that’s a price we are willing to pay.” Hmmm … when that same philosophical dispute comes up concerning litigation itself, doesn’t our legal establishment usually favor bending over backwards to keep from chilling dubious complaints? And isn’t it only fair to ask them to live with the same culture of easy accusation that so often results? (Lucy Soto, “Complain about a lawyer at your own risk of peril”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mar. 26).
March 30-April 1 — No cause to be frightened. An Iowa court of appeals has ruled that a man who entered a convenience store at 4:30 a.m. wearing a disguise and ordered a clerk to empty the cash register did not commit robbery for legal purposes. James Edward Heard came in to a Davenport, Ia. Coastal Mart store “wearing a paper bag over his head and athletic socks on his hands” and, according to court records, “greeted cashier Aimee Hahn by saying either ‘Happy Halloween’ or ‘Trick or treat’ and then, in a soft voice, asked her to give him ‘the money.'” (The date was May, not October). After Ms. Hahn complied, he ordered her to lie down and fled. Mr. Heard admitted the facts of the case and was convicted of second-degree robbery, but the appeals court overturned his conviction, ruling that Heard’s actions did not imply a threat of “serious injury” as defined by law. The district attorney called the ruling “terrible”. (Clark Kauffman, “Court rules no threat, no robbery”, Des Moines Register, March 15) (via Jerry Lerman’s Bonehead of the Day Award).
March 29 — Putting the “special” in special sauce. A Toronto family claims its nine-year-old daughter found a severed rat’s head in her sandwich and wants C$17.5 million (U.S. $11.2 million) from McDonald’s Canada. According to her family’s lawyer, Ayan Abdi Jama, “having been enticed by McDonald’s pervasive child-focused advertising”, ordered a Big Mac which was “served in a paper wrapper bearing the Disney ‘Tarzan’ logo”, and proceeded to “partially ingest” the bewhiskered rodent portion, suffering as a result extensive psychiatric damage. Her mom was so shocked by the event that she can no longer carry on normal daily activities or earn a living, the suit further alleges, and her sister will quite likely be similarly affected when she grows up, so they deserve lots of money too. The complaint further alleges that “customers should be warned to inspect sandwiches prior to consumption” and that McDonald’s was negligent for not issuing such a warning. (“Alleged rat’s head in Big Mac triggers lawsuit”, CBC News, Mar. 27; “McDonald’s Canada lawsuit claims rat head in burger”, Reuters/FindLaw, Mar. 28; complaint in PDF format (very long), courtesy FindLaw).
March 29 — “Workers win more lawsuits, awards”. “Employees who claim they’ve been harassed or discriminated against are winning many of their cases, and the financial awards they’re receiving often far eclipse those of years past.” The new spate of layoffs is likely to push those numbers higher, and companies that have gone off chasing youthful New Economy workforces invite costly age-bias claims, according to our editor, who is quoted. (Stephanie Armour, USA Today, March 27).
March 28 — The malaria drug made him do it. Last week federal prosecutors indicted former Congressman Ed Mezvinsky on 66 counts of fraud, saying he bilked banks and investors out of more than $10 million trying to make up his losses after himself falling victim to an African advance-fee scam. Mezvinsky now says his errant conduct arose from psychiatric side effects of the anti-malaria medication Lariam, which he took while on his business trips to Africa, and he’s suing the giant drugmaker Roche, along with Philadelphia’s Presbyterian Medical Center, his physician and a pharmacy, saying they should reimburse the losses of the people who entrusted their money to him and also pay him damages. “Clearly the responsibility lies with the manufacturers,” said his lawyer, Michael F. Barrett. (“Mezvinsky files suit over drug”, AP/Philadelphia Daily News, Mar. 24; Jim Smith, “$10M classic swindle”, Philadelphia Daily News, Mar. 23)(more on advance-fee scams). (DURABLE LINK)
March 28 — Ideological pro bono. We should be grateful to lawyers for the idealistic work they do free (“pro bono“) on behalf of worthy causes, right? Well, that may depend on what causes you find worthy. A new Federalist Society survey confirms that pro bono work at the nation’s biggest law firms tilts heavily toward liberal-left causes, such as gun control and racial preferences, as opposed to conservative or libertarian ones. (Pro Bono Activity at the AmLaw 100; Peter Roff, “Pro Bono, Pro Liberal”, National Review Online, March 14).
March 27 — Junk-fax bonanza. An Augusta, Ga. jury has found that the Hooters restaurant chain unlawfully allowed an ad agency to send unsolicited ad faxes offering lunch coupons to businesses and individuals in the Augusta area. Because the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) specifies that each sending of an improper fax incurs a $500 fine, which is tripled if the offense is willful, “attorney- turned-plaintiff Sam G. Nicholson and 1,320 class members … stand to share an estimated $4 million to $12 million from a suit Nicholson filed in 1995.” Each recipient of the six unsolicited faxes will be entitled to a minimum of $3,000 for the inconvenience, and $9,000 if damages are tripled. Hooters says its local manager signed up for a fax-ad service without realizing that its services were illegal or that federal law made advertisers as well as fax-senders liable for violations. (Janet L. Conley, “Just the Fax, Ma’am: Unsolicited Ad Spree May Cost Hooters Millions”, Fulton County Daily Report, Mar. 26). For earlier stages in the junk-fax saga, see Oct. 22, 1999 and Mar. 3, 2000.
March 27 — Shot, then sued. Batavia, Ill. police officer Chris Graver won numerous awards and accolades for bravery after surviving a shootout with a gunman in which he was critically injured and the gunman killed. He’s relieved that the gunman’s survivors have now finally agreed to drop their lawsuit against him. The legal action “was kind of aggravating. You get three bullets in you, almost die, and there’s still lawyers lining up to file a lawsuit against you.”(Sean D. Hamill, “Lawsuit dropped, but officer still tormented by shooting”, (suburban Chicago) Daily Herald, Mar. 23).
March 26 — “Teacher sues parent over handshake”. “A Utah elementary school teacher is suing a parent for allegedly shaking her hand so hard during a parent-teacher conference that she has had to wear a hand brace, undergo surgery and drop out of advanced teaching classes.” The suit, by teacher Traci R. England, says that parent Glenda Smith was irate and charges Smith with “vigorously pumping [England’s] arm up and down,” with the result that England “missed work, incurred medical expenses of more than $3,000 and dropped a university class, making her ineligible for a pay raise of $2,000 per year. Her attorney, Michael T. McCoy, is seeking damages for his client, including pain and suffering, in excess of $250,000.” (Dawn House, Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 23).
Update: we received the following email in November 2005:
I am the teacher in your post. The injury occurred November 20, 2000. Five years later, I have had 7 (yes, seven) surgeries. Each surgery resulted in a loss of 3 weeks of teaching. Over the years, I have suffered from the irresponsible choice an angry parent made over her son’s grades. My students were affected as a result of multiple and lengthy absences. I continue to take medication for inflammation and pain. I have ugly scars on my forearm, wrist, and palm. Did I receive the $250,000 originally asked for in the claim? Not even 10%. How’s that for justice? My lawsuit was never superfluous, nor was it irresponsible. I resent my name and litigation information being present on your site. Please remove it. It does not belong there. You have not done your homework. — Traci England
For our reply, see letters column of Nov. 18, 2005.
March 26 — California electricity linkfest. We’ve neglected this one, what with being on the other coast and all, but here are some catch-up highlights: “California policymakers … froze the retail price of electricity and utilities lost so much money as to face bankruptcy. They barred utilities from signing long-term supply contracts and saw spot prices soar. They dragged their feet on new power-plant construction and found electricity in short supply. They ignored the need for more long-distance transmission lines and then couldn’t import enough power to meet demand. They shielded consumers from higher utility bills and gave them rolling blackouts instead.” And with each round of failure they propose to push the state further into the power business. (William Kucewicz, “California’s Dreaming”, GeoInvestor.com, Feb. 12). The “major crisis could have been averted” had the state last summer allowed utilities to enter long-term contracts with slightly higher rates, but “it’s clear that [Gov. Gray] Davis didn’t act last summer because he was afraid. He feared that long-term contracts could have been criticized if power prices dropped in the future, and that even a minor increase in rates would bring fire from consumer activists.” (Dan Walters, “Crisis also one of leadership”, Capitol Alert/Sacramento Bee, March 25) (via Kausfiles). Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio all show promising models of genuine deregulation, as opposed to the fake version paassed off by Golden State lawmakers (“California Dreamin'” (editorial), Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 19).
As for the supply side: “In the last decade the population [of California] has climbed 14%, to 34 million”, while peak demand for electricity has climbed 19%. “The number of big power plants built since 1990: zero.” (Lynn Cook, “My Kingdom for a Building Permit,” Forbes.com, Feb. 19). “In the 1970s California’s power regulators got all excited about renewables. The state is now littered with high-cost, low-efficiency wind and solar facilities that produce limited amounts of unreliable power, for which ratepayers have overpaid by at least $25 billion in the intervening years. In 1996 the regulators were persuaded by a cabal of efficiency mavens and end-of-growth pundits that demand for electrons was leveling off and would soon decline, while supply was plentiful and would soon become a glut. They regulated accordingly.” (Peter Huber, “Insights: The Kilowatt Casino”, Forbes.com, Feb. 19)(see also Oct. 11)
And we all knew the trial lawyers would manage to get into it somehow, didn’t we? Not long ago San Francisco launched what is apparently the first “affirmative litigation” office meant to turn suing businesses into an ongoing profit center for the city in partnership with private law firms (see Oct. 5). The political leadership of that city having been a voice for the worst possible policies at each step along the way to where we are now, now City Attorney Louise Renne has sued 13 energy producers for supposedly conspiring to create the crisis. “Joining the lawsuit as co-counsel is attorney Patrick Coughlin of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach in San Francisco. Coughlin worked with the city in its successful litigation against the tobacco industry.” (Dennis Opatrny, “San Francisco City Attorney Lays Energy Crisis at Feet of Power Companies”, The Recorder, Jan. 22; Paul Pringle, “Power struggle: Finger-pointing intensifies as California woes grow”, Dallas Morning News, Jan. 29).
MORE: Victor Davis Hanson, “Paradise Lost”, Wall Street Journal/OpinionJournal.com, March 21; Gregg Easterbrook, “Brown and Out”, The New Republic, Feb. 19; Robert J. Michaels (California State Fullerton), “California’s Electrical Mess: The Deregulation That Wasn’t,” National Center for Policy Analysis Brief Analysis No. 348, Feb. 14; Paul Van Slambrouck, “How California lost its power”, Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 19 (“California actually has been a pioneer in energy conservation and is one of the most energy-efficient states in the nation, according to conservation experts like Ralph Cavanagh of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council”; so much for that proposed cure); Reason Public Policy Institute; Cato; NCPA.
March 23-25 — Non-gun control. “Two second-graders playing cops and robbers with a paper gun were charged with making terrorist threats. The boys’ parents said the situation should have been resolved in the principal’s office, but [Irvington, N.J.] Police Chief Steven Palamara on Wednesday defended school officials and the district’s zero-tolerance policy.” (“Second-graders face charges for paper gun”, AP/CNN, Mar. 21). And earlier this year Rep. Ed Towns (N.Y.) “introduced bill H.R. 215, a measure to ban ‘toys which in size, shape or overall appearance resemble real handguns,'” part of a spate of anti-toy-gun legislation in various jurisdictions. (Lance Jonn Romanoff, “Someone call the National Toy Rifle Association”, Liberzine, Feb. 19).
Meanwhile Ross Clark of the estimable Spectator of London notes in his regular column, “Banned wagon: a list of the things which our rulers wish to prohibit”, that a Labor MP has proposed banning the carrying of bottles and glasses on the street, because they are capable of use as offensive weapons in altercations: “It was never likely that our legislators would be happy banning just items purposely designed for killing people, such as handguns and samurai swords. There are some who will not be satisfied until the human environment is constructed entirely from soft substances which cannot conceivably be used as weapons” (Feb. 10).
March 23-25 — Brockovich a heroine? Julia really can act. One of the most entertaining aspects of that entertaining movie, “Erin Brockovich“, is the pretense that its script has more than a nodding acquaintance with the real-life history of the Hinkley case (Michael Fumento, “Erin Go Away!”, National Review Online, March 21)(our take: Reason, October).
March 23-25 — Guest editorial: ABA’s judicial role. “Good riddance to the American Bar Association’s judge-vetters. Who elected them? Now they can criticize and praise judicial nominees like any other lobby or trade association.” (Mickey Kaus, “Hit Parade”, Kausfiles.com, March 22; see David Stout, “Bush Ends A.B.A.’s Quasi-official Role in Helping to Pick Judges”, New York Times, Mar. 22).
March 23-25 — “Fired Transsexual Dancers Out for Justice”. “Two transsexuals say they were given walking papers from their go-go dancing jobs at a trendy Chelsea club because the nightspot decided they wanted to hire ‘real girls.'” Amanda Lepore and Sophia LaMar, post-operative transsexuals who used to dance at Twilo, are suing the West 27th Street club for $100,000, charging wrongful firing. “This was just a case of out-and-out discrimination,” said their lawyer, Tom Shanahan. The nightclub denies that it discriminates against gals who used to be guys. (Dareh Gregorian, New York Post, March 22). In other news, a “judge has peeled away more than half of stripper Vanessa Steele Inman’s $2.5 million verdict against a Georgia nightclub, the Pink Pony, and its owner.” (Richmond Eustis, “$1.6M Punitives Award Peeled From Stripper’s Legal Victory”, Fulton County Daily Report, March 8; see July 26, 2000). Update Apr. 17, 2004: court of appeals overturns Inman’s verdict (more exotic-dancer litigation: Dec. 4, Aug. 14, May 23, Jan. 28, 2000)
March 21-22 — Hostage-taker sues victims. “Richard Gable Stevens’ hostage-taking rampage at Santa Clara’s National Shooting Club 18 months ago will cost him the next 50 years of his life behind bars in state prison,” Judge Kevin Murphy ruled earlier this month. “Stevens, 23, was convicted of kidnapping, robbery, false imprisonment, threats and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the July 5, 1999 incident. … Murphy questioned the sincerity of Stevens’ remorse, noting that he has filed a lawsuit for monetary damages against the very people he was convicted of having wronged.” (Bill Romano, “Man gets 50 years for rampage at gun club “, San Jose Mercury News, March 10 (search fee-based archive on “Richard Gable Stevens”, retrieval $1.95) The incident ended when Stevens was shot and wounded by one of his intended victims. According to columnist Vin Suprynowicz, police found a note in which Stevens told his parents he would get revenge on them because they would be bankrupted by lawsuits from the survivors of his intended victims (Vin Suprynowicz, “No serial killings this week in Santa Clara”, Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 11, 1999). (DURABLE LINK)
March 21-22 — Reparations-fest: give us Toronto. Among the latest claimant groups to attract notice with demands for reparations: descendants of early New Mexico settlers asserting land claims that predate the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, under which Mexico ceded much of its northern territory to the U.S. (Christian Science Monitor, March 6). In Canada, the Indian Claims Commission, a federal agency, “says it is handling roughly 480 land-claims cases. There are dozens more in the courts. ” Nearly 200 years after the fact, a band of Mississaugas “are seeking retroactive compensation from Ottawa for the Toronto Purchase, a quarter-million acres covering the whole of Toronto and into the suburbs. … Last summer, the Squamish Indians settled their claim to some prime real estate in North Vancouver for nearly C$92.5 (US$58) million.” (Ruth Walker, “Indian land claims flood Ottawa”, Christian Science Monitor, March 20).
At National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg wonders whether it might not after all be worth paying trillions if it actually got the racial-spoils lobby to cool it once and for all on preferences, quotas, set-asides and the rest of the list — as if it would ever do that (“Reparations Now”, March 19). And reparations lawyers in California have neatly arranged for their targets and the state’s taxpayers to conduct a lot of their research for them: “California Gov. Gray Davis this month signed the Slaveholder Insurance Policy law, which requires all insurers whose businesses date to the 19th Century to review their archives and make public the names of insured slaves and the slaveholders through the state’s insurance commissioner. … Davis also signed the University of California Slavery Colloquium law directing college officials to assemble a team of scholars to research slavery and report how some current California businesses benefited.” (V. Dion Haynes, “California Tells Insurers: Open Slave Records”, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 20.) See also Jeffrey Ghannam, “Repairing the Past”, ABA Journal , Nov.).
March 21-22 — (Another) “Monster Fee Award for Tobacco Fighters”. “New York’s Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach and San Francisco’s Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein are among 10 firms that will share $637.5 million in fees for their role in helping California cities and counties capture their share of a $206 billion settlement agreement with the tobacco industry. The Tobacco Fee Arbitration Panel announced Tuesday that private lawyers in California should be awarded the fees for the more than 130,000 hours they [say they — ed.] worked in helping cities and counties grab half the $25 billion awarded California in the master settlement agreement. The state takes the other half. That works out to approximately $4,904 per hour for the lawyers.” (Kirsten Andelman, The Recorder, March 9).
March 21-22 — Welcome visitors. We’ve noticed this site being mentioned or linked to lately on weblogs Pie in the Sky (Mar. 17: “As a soon-to-be-lawyer, Overlawyered.com is going on my permanent bookmark list. Don’t worry, I’m going to be a transactional attorney- I won’t be doing any litigation (like the kind in the site linked to, or any other).”) and AFireInside; on the NetCool Users Group disclaimer; and on pages including Russell Shaw’s, Univ. of Calif. Libertarians, Swanson Group, LeaveThePackBehind.org (tobacco-Canadian), PelicanPolitics.com, UtterlyStupid.com, FoldingJonah, TheRightTrack.org (“Alaska’s Conservative Digest”), and Dave and Holly’s.