- Bi-counsel-ar? “Lawyer Defending Congressman’s Wife in Bigamy Case Accuses Client of Having a Second Lawyer” [Slate]
- “Why tort liability for data breaches won’t improve cybersecurity” [Stewart Baker]
- Pennsylvania passes a new gun law, and suddenly liberal standing with attorney fee shifting stops being the progressive position [Harrisburg Patriot-News]
- “Letting a case die like a pet rat forgotten in the garage” [Ken at Popehat on Todd Kincannon challenge to South Carolina state bar discipline threats]
- Getting to it late: hour-long Cato podcast with Randy Barnett on his book Structure of Liberty including Aaron Ross Powell, Trevor Burrus;
- Once a fun party town, New Orleans now will ban vaping in private clubs and while waiting in line at drive-throughs [Christopher Fountain, Ronald Bailey on vaping bans and public health] More: Bailey on exaggeration of risks, Jacob Sullum on California proposal;
- Colorado legislature looks serious about tackling liability reform [Denver Business Journal]
The nonprofit Citizens Awareness Foundation was founded to “empower citizens to exercise their right to know,” according to its mission statement. The South Florida millionaire backing the foundation hired one of the state’s most prominent public records activists to run it, rented office space, and pledged to pay the legal fees to make sure people had access to government records.
But a review of court records and internal communications obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting shows that the foundation is less interested in obtaining records and educating the public than in working with a partner law firm to collect cash settlements from every lawsuit filed….
The O’Boyle law firm has filed more than 140 requests on behalf of the foundation and a related group this year, including barrages of requests against engineers and road builders. The general counsel of the Florida Engineering Federation wrote in May that it was “debatable whether they are truly seeking records or just attempting to obtain legal fees for a violation,” a concern shared elsewhere:
“It’s a sad game of ‘gotcha,’ the only purpose of which is to generate an attorney fee claim rather than obtain any actual public records,” said Bob Burleson, president of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association.
A former executive director of the foundation has resigned, citing ethical concerns. Among numerous small government contractors targeted by the demands are charities and social service providers; an environmental remediation firm says the law firm included a nondisclosure demand that would prevent it from comparing notes with others to receive the fee demands. Ten years ago we reported on a practice in California in which bounty-hunting requesters aimed public records requests at school districts in early summer, then followed with legal fee requests based on the districts’ having missed the short deadline for responding.
The “city of Los Angeles will pay $215,000 to end a free-speech lawsuit involving a man who was kicked out of a public meeting after showing up wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. …[Michael] Hunt, who is black, attended the meeting while wearing both the KKK hood and a T-shirt that featured a profanity and a racial slur used to describe African Americans.” Hunt’s attorney, Stephen Rohde, denied a city report that his client had on being ejected “thanked the security officers for providing him with a ‘big payday’.” Hunt had “previously received a $264,286 jury award stemming from a 2009 lawsuit in which he challenged the city’s vending restrictions on the Venice Boardwalk. The city also paid Hunt’s lawyer $340,000 in legal fees for that case.” Rohde, meanwhile, had been the attorney suing the city in another recent case involving complainants repeatedly ejected from city council meetings; in that case jurors had awarded the complainants only $1 each, the city still had to pay the attorney about $600,000 in legal bills under a “one-way” fee shift entitlement for successful civil rights suits. [L.A. Times, ABA Journal]
“When the NFL concussion settlement was announced nearly four months ago, the more than 4,500 players who had sued the league were assured that no part of the $765 million deal would go to lawyers.
“But a recent dispute involving the players’ lead negotiator confirms that not only was that statement misleading, some lawyers stand to receive multiple paydays, according to documents and emails obtained by ‘Outside the Lines.'” [ESPN.com, auto-plays video] (& welcome Above the Law readers)
A Ninth Circuit panel has ratified that result in a gender discrimination case under California law, ruling that federal district judge Claudia Wilken was within her discretion to approve the award even though, as defendant United Parcel Service argued, “plaintiff Kim Muniz recovered comparatively little in damages and had not prevailed on most of her claims.” [Julia Love, The Recorder; Muniz v. UPS]
- The law blog that almost brought down ObamaCare [Trevor Burrus, Cato] “In Government, Nothing Succeeds Like Failure,” public policies being hard to adjust when they go astray [Peter Schuck, HuffPo]
- Sexual harassment claim: “Attorneys awarded more than 600 times damages in Calif. case” [Legal NewsLine]
- KlearGear, of non-disparagement fame, reaps the online whirlwind [Popehat, Public Citizen, Volokh, earlier]
- “What if American Exceptionalism, properly understood, really boils down to associational liberty?” [Richard Reinsch, Liberty Law] Do religious-liberty carve-outs in same-sex marriage laws go too far, not far enough, or neither? [Dale Carpenter et al. vs. Richard Garnett et al.]
- What jury didn’t hear in qui tam award against pipemaker JM Eagle [Daniel Fisher, more]
- Majority of appointed commissioners on Consumer Product Safety Commission is is no hurry to reduce inordinate CPSIA testing burdens, per retiring commissioner Nancy Nord (more);
- Woman who claims to own sun says she prevailed in lawsuit brought by man who claims to own universe [Lowering the Bar]
Insist that class counsel’s attorneys’ fees be handled separately from the negotiation of relief to the class — and then don’t roll over for those fees the way defendants usually do. “They [Starbucks’ lawyers] contend that the $4.2 million request is ‘breathtakingly inflated,’ considering that class counsel managed to win certification of only one of 13 alleged subclasses [in a West Coast wage-hour class action].” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
The Washington Post splashes an investigative story about the tax lien business, in which outsiders buy up delinquent municipal property tax liens sometimes amounting to mere hundreds of dollars, then roll in lawyers’ fees and costs that can push up the bill into many thousands, eventuating in the foreclosure of family homes. The narrative is less than clear about exactly how the process works, and even leaves the impression that a tax lien purchaser owed, say, $6,000 can walk away with all the proceeds from the foreclosure of a $197,000 house without having to hand any of it over to mortgage holders, let alone the original owner. And some of the solutions offered (let’s not allow lien foreclosures on elderly people!) would have unintended consequences that are also, to be polite, underexplained. Still, enough of the story is there that an important general principle comes through: it’s dangerous for the law to put opportunistic actors in a position to run up $450/hour legal fees pursuing adversarial process that might not actually have been needed to vindicate their interests.
- “Is the main effect of the minimum wage on job growth?” [Tyler Cowen] Minimum wage is transitional wage; most workers who receive it will earn higher rate in the next year if they stay employed [same] “Obama’s Bogus Case for a ‘Decent Wage'”[Ira Stoll]
- “Equipment manufacturer sues EEOC over email survey trolling for potential class members” [Jessica Karmasek, LNL]
- Don’t mess with SEIU? “Service Employees Suit Assesses Harsh Penalties against Breakaway Reformers” [Steve Early, Labor Notes]
- NLRB is fully staffed now, so watch out employers [Rod Kackley, Crain’s Detroit Business]
- Major League Baseball latest to face suit over unpaid volunteer workers [ABA Journal]
- Dent in lawyers’ business plan? Judge doesn’t think Michigan meatpacking workers’ $1,000 don/doff claim is adequate basis for $140,000 legal fee award [Free Press]
- Workplace vagrants: many employees quit jobs regularly as garnishment catches up to them [Coyote]
“At the risk of losing their homes if they didn’t, scores of Colorado homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure in the past year were each forced to pay hundreds of dollars in lawyer charges for phantom court cases against them, a Denver Post investigation has found.” In 126 of the episodes, the paper reports, no foreclosure lawsuit was actually filed. Related reporting on allegations against Colorado foreclosure law firms here, here, etc.
Along with the Colorado attorney general, various other law enforcers both state and federal are scrutinizing the billing practices of creditors’ law firms looking for evidence that they’ve been evading the fee and cost reimbursement limits for foreclosures that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA prescribe on loans they own, guarantee or insure. [Paul Jackson, Housing Wire via Funnell]
Here’s why: it turns out that many of the major law firms responsible for managing foreclosures for the GSEs also have a controlling interest in the ancillary service firms that generate the variable fees that appear as “costs” on the lawyer’s bill. Many law firms either outright own, or their partners have a significant interest in, the company that is posting and publishing notices; or they may own or have an interest in the company that manages process of service, as well.
Such arrangements are not illegal, but could land the firms and mortgage servicers in hot water if it develops that they have connived at fee padding by the ancillary firms. (& welcome Above the Law readers). More: Heather Draper, Denver Business Journal (and thanks for quote).