Posts Tagged ‘Bay Area’

Bay Area radio appearances

I’ll be a guest Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. PDT on Napa, Calif.’s KVON radio 1440 AM. And then on Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. PDT I’ll be joining host Lee Rodgers on his popular show on KSFO 560 AM. In both cases I’ll be discussing my book The Rule of Lawyers, which came out in paperback earlier this month (more). To book a broadcast interview on the book, email me directly or contact Jamie Stockton at the St. Martin’s/Griffin publicity department: 212-674-5151, ext. 502. (bumped 6/28)

Cake decorators face lawyer Grinch

Dragees–the silver-coated balls of sugar decorating many Christmas treats–have been withdrawn from the market in California, as wholesalers and bakers refuse to sell the popular product for fear of being named in a pending suit by a private Napa lawyer against Martha Stewart, Dean and DeLuca, and other purveyors. The low-cost product wasn’t worth defending in an expensive trial. State regulators saw no reason to act, but California law permits private citizens to bring suit.

“We are not aware of any health problems associated with this product,” said Lea Brooks of the California Department of Health Services. “Levels of the metal are extremely low — you’d have to consume massive quantities. We don’t know how much.”

Rebels may still purchase the product in the other 49 states of the Union. (Carol Ness, “Bay Area faces holidays without little silver balls on baked goods”, San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 23 (via Daily Legal Newswire); David Ryan, “Napa suit ends sales of cake decoration”, Napa Valley Register, Dec. 9).

Read On…

Update: disabled-rights rulings

On Dec. 2 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a unanimous (7-0, two members not voting) decision in the much-watched Americans with Disabilities Act case of Hernandez v. Hughes Missile Systems (see Oct. 14, Oct. 7, Sept. 16-17, 2002. It held that notwithstanding the ADA’s protection of rehabilitated drug users, an employer is not obliged to rehire such drug users when it is following an otherwise neutral rule prohibiting the rehiring of former employees terminated for misconduct, provided it is not invoking such a rule as a mere pretext. The decision was widely reported as a straight-out victory for employers (see, for example, “US court rules for company on drug-use disability”, Reuters/Forbes, Dec. 2) but a closer look suggests a more complicated picture, with the door still open for legal attacks on many seemingly neutral employment rules (“Supreme Court Says No-Rehire Policy Is Not Discriminatory Practice Under ADA”, BNA, Dec. 8; “Supreme Court Dodges Question Whether Rehire Policy Barring Former Drug User Violates Disability Law”, Jackson Lewis, Dec. 3).

On the other coast, disabled-rights litigators suffered a significant setback last month that has been little noted in the national press, when a Bay Area judge rejected an suit attempting to hold the clothing discounter Mervyn’s liable for maintaining merchandise displays too crowded for wheelchair users to navigate. In his decision, Alameda Superior Court Judge Henry Needham “wrote that fixing Mervyn’s California stores to make all aisles conform with a 32-inch clearance for wheelchairs would cost the company $70 million in lost annual sales and $30 million in lost profits, according to the company’s estimates.” This exceeds the scope of “reasonable” accommodation, the judge ruled (Melanie Payne, “Judge backs Mervyn’s in disability suit”, Sacramento Bee, Nov. 5). Disabled-rights litigators had made wide-aisle mandates an important priority in lawsuits and protests: see Aug. 23 and links from there.

Following the standard of care?

“A San Francisco jury has awarded a 9-year-old boy $70.9 million in compensatory damages after finding a hospital and a medical clinic negligent for failing to diagnose his metabolic disease.” The mother of Michael Cook sued Stanford Health Services and the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, saying “that the hospital took Cook’s blood specimen when he was 4 hours old, too early to get accurate results when performing a required screening test for metabolic disorders.” Not until years later was Cook diagnosed with hereditary phenylketonuria, by which time he had suffered brain damage. “The lawyer defending Stanford Health Services, David Sheuerman, of Sheuerman, Martini & Tabari in San Jose, argued that the state didn’t come out with a guideline saying the tests should be done after a baby’s first 12 hours until 1995, the year after Cook was born. Sheuerman said 88,000 infants in California between zero and 12 hours of age were tested in 1994. ‘Stanford did their screening program the same way every other hospital in the (San Francisco) Bay Area did it.'” (Pam Smith, “San Francisco Jury Awards Boy $70.9M”, The Recorder, Sept. 30; Barbara Feder Ostrow, “$70 million awarded for boy’s brain damage”, San Jose Mercury-News, Sept. 30; Bob Egelko, “Brain-damaged boy wins huge verdict”, San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 30).

Access suit closes landmark Calif. eatery

On Lock Sam, a beloved 105-year-old Chinese restaurant in Stockton, Calif., has closed rather than fight a suit filed by a wheelchair-using visitor who says he was humiliated and soiled himself after finding himself unable to use the restaurant’s bathroom. The restaurant owners said 32 employees would be laid off. The customer, Charles Hager, hired Oakland attorney Paul Rein to file a lawsuit demanding triple damages plus attorney fees under state discrimination law. (Jason Williams, “One last trip to On Lock Sam”, Stockton Record, Aug. 18; Michael Fitzgerald and Bruce Spence, “Eatery to close after 105 years”, Jul. 30; Michael Fitzgerald, “Talk before filing that lawsuit”, Jul. 30). The closing prompted an outpouring of discussion, much of it critical of the lawsuit, by Stockton residents (letters, Stockton Record, Aug. 9) including longtime patrons of the restaurant who themselves use wheelchairs or are otherwise disabled (Aug. 18 story, see comments of Fred Hess and Mary Gildner).

Read On…

“Kiss ladies’ night goodbye”

Although the California Supreme Court ruled as long ago as 1985 that the state’s civil rights law prohibits “Ladies’ Night” discounts at bars, various San Diego taverns apparently hadn’t gotten the word. That created a perfect opening for Steven Surrey and Alfred Rava to make the rounds of nightspots in the county, demanding similar discounts for themselves and taking note when they were refused. The Unruh Civil Rights Act provides $4,000 fines for each violation plus “one-way” attorneys’ fee awards (pay if you are a losing defendant, collect nothing if you win). The next step was for lawyers to swoop down and obtain $20,000 settlements from six errant bar owners and $5,000 from a seventh that was going out of business. “One of the [complainants] is a California Western School of Law classmate of the two lawyers who filed the suits on their behalf. The other is a paralegal. When asked about the social merits of these lawsuits, Erik Jenkins, one of the attorneys who filed the suits, made comparisons between ladies night discounts and the discrimination faced by African-Americans in the South.” (Alex Roth, San Diego Union-Tribune, Aug. 3).

In other news of California bounty-hunting, the Long Beach Press-Telegram (Aug. 2) has editorially cited our editor’s recent WSJ op-ed in upbraiding local Assemblywoman Martha Escutia for advancing a measure that masquerades as reform of the state’s notorious section 17200 law but in fact would give lawyers even more scope to use it for shakedowns (see Jul. 28).

Addendum: Lest anyone doubt that highly entrepreneurial applications of section 17200 remain alive and well despite the downfall of the Trevor Law Group, John Sullivan at the Civil Justice Association of California reprints a recent letter (PDF) from a Bay Area law firm demanding $6500 in legal fees in exchange for not filing a 17200 lawsuit over an allegedly erroneous advertisement; the law firm does not claim to represent any clients injured by the ad, but does state that “A substantial percentage of this firm?s practice is devoted to prosecuting UCL violations.” (“17200 Abuses don’t stop with Trevor: Shakedowns Head North”, CJAC press release, Jul. 23)

Calif. bounty-hunting, again

The Los Angeles Times’s Michael Hiltzik doubts that the cleanup of the Trevor Law Group spells an end to shakedown litigation under California’s Section 17200: “As I write I’m looking at a letter sent two weeks ago by a Bay Area lawyer to a San Jose pool company, offering to settle a potential 17200 claim over a supposedly deceptive newspaper advertisement in exchange for a ‘reasonable attorney’s fee’ of $5,000” (“Consumer-Protection Law Abused in Legal Shakedown”, Jul. 21). Hiltzik also relates an amusing anecdote about how the Trevor lawyers helped seal their fate: “The group also made the mistake of picking on the wrong victims; thinking that it was suing only ma-and-pa service stations, it named, apparently unwittingly, a couple of repair shops owned by the big tire maker Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, which took umbrage and put Sybesma [experienced defense lawyer Edward Sybesma of Costa Mesa’s Rutan & Tucker] on the case. ‘How was I supposed to know this was Bridgestone/Firestone?’ Sybesma recalls one of the Trevor lawyers lamenting one day — a line one wouldn’t be surprised to hear during an episode of ‘America’s Dumbest Criminals.'”

The Wall Street Journal’s free OpinionJournal has now posted our editor’s op-ed on section 17200, which appeared in the paper last Tuesday and was linked here in different form last week (see Jul. 22). (Walter Olson, “The Shakedown State”,, Jul. 27.) Reader comments, too. And Baseball Crank (Jul. 27) quotes extensively and informatively from Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent in the Supreme Court’s recent refusal to hear the 17200 case against shoemaker Nike.