Posts Tagged ‘Beaumont’

Judicial Hellholes III Report

The American Tort Reform Association today released its third annual Judicial Hellholes report — ATRA’s report on the worst court systems in the United States where “‘Equal Justice Under Law’ does not exist.”

Here is the press release from ATRA. The highlights, including the top nine worst areas (seven counties and two regions — all of West Virginia and all of South Florida) and a salute to Mississippi for its tremendous and far-reaching tort reforms are on this page. The full report is in PDF format here.

But there may yet be hope:

Read On…

Update: Compaq beats glitch suit again

Following the spectacular $2 billion class action settlement in Beaumont, Texas against Toshiba for a reported data glitch in its laptop computers (see Nov. 3, 1999 and later coverage) class action lawyers descended with copycat suits against Compaq and other rival laptop makers. A federal class action was however rejected (see May 11-13, 2001) and now the Texas Supreme Court has rejected a national class action filed in Texas state courts. However, “attorneys for the class aren’t throwing in the towel and say a statewide class action still is possible”. Besides proffering other defenses, a lawyer for the company “contends that a buffer in Compaq’s computers prevents problems with the FDC [floppy disk controller].” (Mary Alice Robbins, “Court Boots Nationwide Class Action Against Compaq”, Texas Lawyer, May 18).

Update: judge OKs tire settlement

Despite objections from rival plaintiff’s lawyers and others, state district judge Donald Floyd in Beaumont, Texas, has approved the settlement of a class action on behalf of consumers who own or owned recalled Firestone tires allegedly prone to tread separation. The settlement excludes anyone who has filed actual claims of personal or property injury related to the tires. Class members (other than 45 named plaintiffs who will receive $2,500 each) will get no monetary compensation, but will have the right to trade in the tires if they did not respond to the earlier recall, and Firestone has pledged another $65 million for education and safety programs. The class action lawyers, meanwhile, which include Beaumont’s Provost Umphrey, will get $19 million. See our reports of Sept. 19 and Oct. 8. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “Judge Approves $149 Million Firestone Tire Settlement”, Texas Lawyer, Mar. 22).

Fen-phen: O’Quinn extracts $1 billion from Beaumont jury

“A jury awarded $1 billion to the family of a woman who once took the Wyeth-made diet drug Pondimin, part of the now-banned weight-loss combination fen-phen.” Cynthia Cappel-Coffey, who died last year at 41 of primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH), did not develop symptoms of PPH until more than four years after using the Wyeth drug. According to Bill Sims, a lawyer for Wyeth, the Beaumont judge refused to allow the company to introduce evidence that Cappel-Coffey had taken four other diet drugs in the intervening years, although all four of the other drugs warn of a risk of PPH. Wyeth has already set aside nearly $17 billion for fen-phen litigation. (“Jury awards $1 billion to family of woman whose death was connected to diet drug”, AP/Court TV, Apr. 28; Reed Abelson and Jonathan D. Glater, “Texas Jury Rules Against the Maker of Fen-Phen, a Diet Drug”, New York Times, Apr. 28; Tony Freemantle, “Beaumont jury awards $1 billion in diet drug suit”, Houston Chronicle, Apr. 28). (More: Texas Lawyer). For more on fen-phen litigation, see Jan. 25, Jan. 6, Aug. 19 and links from there. For more on Beaumont, that very special jurisdiction, see Jul. 31 and many more. And for more on attorney John O’Quinn, a frequent source of material for this page, see Feb. 26 and many more.

Disappearing Australians

Lifeguards: “One of Victoria’s most popular surf beaches may be unpatrolled this summer as its lifesaving club struggles to pay the huge public liability insurance costs. The Torquay club will not put lifesavers on the beach this season if the State Government does not pass legislation protecting members and the club from litigation.” (Stephen Moynihan, “Popular beach may have no lifesavers this season”, Melbourne Age, Nov. 2). Pediatric surgeons: “Eighteen orthopedic surgeons and obstetricians have quit public hospitals in Sydney in the past week because of the Government’s medical indemnity charge.” (Ruth Pollard, “Children’s surgeons quit, more will follow”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 2). Rural obstetricians (Lucy Beaumont, “Insurance fear on rural births”, Melbourne Age, May 6). See David Little, “Left untreated, the indemnity system will cause more suffering”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 9; Richard Ackland, “In a row between doctor and lawyer, you know who the politician will call”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 31)

Beaumont and its reputation

Lawyers and judges in Beaumont, Texas are far from pleased to hear their city called a “judicial hellhole” and “the Barbary Coast for class-action litigation.” “Defense lawyer James R. (“Jay”) Old Jr. says the county has unfairly gotten a reputation as a place where ‘the plaintiffs and defense bar work together to combine for the greatest amount of billables for the defense lawyers and the greatest recoveries for the plaintiff'”. Why, sir, the very idea is preposterous! Besides, there’s a silver lining in the city’s reputation as a forum-shopping destination for lawyers around the state and country: “In fairness, it represents to us an industry. It puts a lot of people to work here,” says Jim Rich, who heads the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce. However, things might be changing: recent elections have shifted the three-member appeals court that oversees Beaumont to a 2-1 Republican edge, from 3-0 Democratic. (Terry Maxon, “Beaumont known for torts”, Dallas Morning News, Jul. 20).

July 2002 archives, part 3


July 30-31 — Tobacco fees: one brave judge. Although most of the press from the New York Times on down continues to ignore this developing story, on July 10 Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Ramos “told lawyers for six law firms that were awarded $625 million for their work in the historic 1998 tobacco settlement in no uncertain terms that he will examine whether the fee award is unethical. The April 2001 decision of the arbitration panel that issued the award set off ‘a flashing light that got my attention’ that the $625 million fee might violate the New York Code of Professional Responsibility’s proscription against illegal or excessive fees, Ramos told the throng of lawyers that filled his courtroom,” reports Daniel Wise in the New York Law Journal. Virtually the entire array of lawyers in the case was lined up against Judge Ramos: the trial lawyers themselves of course were furious, the tobacco companies were disputing his jurisdiction over the matter, and New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office was defending the mega-fees in a brief. Outside the courtroom, meanwhile, establishment legal ethicist Stephen Gillers was scoffing that “There doesn’t seem to be any legal or ethical basis for this inquiry.” There doesn’t? The state’s Disciplinary Rule 2-106 bars lawyers from collecting “an illegal or excessive fee,” and it says nothing about excessive fees being okay so long as the other parties in the case have been dragooned into not objecting. (Daniel Wise, “New York Judge Begins Query Into Tobacco Fees”, New York Law Journal, Jul. 12)(see Jun. 21-23 and Oct. 25-27, 2002; May 11-13, 2001). Correction Jul. 31: our first report mistakenly named the scene of these proceedings as the Superior Court; it is in fact the Supreme Court (which in New York is a trial court and not the highest appellate body).

On July 25 the judge held a further hearing which even fewer press outlets seem to have covered — the only account we’ve seen ran on the Bloomberg wire (“N.Y. Judge Calls Tobacco Pact Legal Bills ‘Offensive”, Bloomberg News Service, Jul. 25, fee-based archive (search on date in litigation category, pulling up additional screens if necessary)). Judge Ramos pointed out that the $625 million fee amounted to $13,000 an hour, a figure he described as “offensive”. Although the trial lawyers who are set to collect those fees include many powerful insiders in New York politics — the sort of men who can make or break the career of an elected judge — the judge seemed admirably uncowed by them. He compared the lawyers’ overcompensation to “the problems now emerging in large corporate America”, which prompted Philip Damashek of Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek & Shoot, which was awarded $98.4 million in fees, to demand an apology for “comparing me and my colleagues to these Enron people'”. And Ramos “ordered another attorney at the firm, Harvey Weitz, removed from the courtroom when he loudly told partner Brian Shoot not to let the judge interrupt him. ‘You’re sandbagging us,’ Weitz shouted at Ramos as he was escorted out. The judge threatened to hold him in contempt.” The judge “ordered the attorneys to file a new application supporting their fee request by August 30, or submit papers challenging his jurisdiction in the matter. The attorneys declined to say after the hearing how they planned to respond.” Addendum: Daniel Wise of the New York Law Journal also covered the July 25 hearing and provides further details of an oral argument that was “unparalleled — for its vitriol, much of it aimed at the judge.” (“New York Tobacco Fee Hearing Has Lawyers Smoking”, Jul. 26).

More: in Texas, Attorney General John Cornyn’s ethics investigation is turning up the heat on the Big Five tobacco lawyers who for years now have dodged being put under oath over the terms of their hiring by Cornyn’s predecessor Dan Morales (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “Investigation of Texas Tobacco Litigators Still Smokin'”, Texas Lawyer, Jul. 22)(see Jul. 15 and links from there). (DURABLE LINK)

July 30-31 — Lying’s not nice, especially when representing the bar. “Oregon’s highest court has suspended for two years an insurance defense lawyer who lied, while being deposed, to conceal a strategy that allowed his client to control both sides of a claim. … The lawyer, John P. Davenport of Portland, Ore., represented the Professional Liability Fund, an insurer established by the State Bar to provide mandatory malpractice insurance.” The Fund used a shell corporation to buy up unpaid malpractice judgments at a discount from claimants, which it could then dismiss; the strategy is not in itself illegal, but the court found that Davenport had not provided forthcoming answers to a bankruptcy examiner about the shell’s dealings with a bankrupt couple who had sued their lawyer for malpractice. (Annie Hsia, “Two-year Ban for Oregon Lawyer Who Lied”, National Law Journal, Jul. 18). In other sanctions news, a federal judge has ordered French drug company Aventis “to pay $32.6 million in attorney fees for vexatious conduct in patent litigation against Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. Southern District of New York Judge Robert P. Patterson said last week that [the company] ‘defiled the temple of justice’ by obstructing depositions and discovery, instructing a witness not to answer questions at a deposition and advancing baseless claims.” The finding of vexatious conduct is on appeal (Tom Perrotta, “Drug Company Must Pay Fees of $32 Million”, New York Law Journal, Jul. 29). (DURABLE LINK)

July 29 — “Bush Urges Malpractice Damage Limits”. “President Bush urged Congress today to impose substantial nationwide restrictions on medical malpractice cases, arguing that million-dollar verdicts are driving up health care costs and forcing doctors out of business.” Sen. John Edwards (D-T.Law.) promptly charged that under the White House proposal, when a child is blinded or paralyzed for life, “He [Bush] proposes what they get for that is $250,000.” (Mike Allen and Amy Goldstein, Washington Post, Jul. 26). In fact, as Edwards cannot but be aware, damages to cover the costs of care, lost income and other monetizable damages, which commonly would run into the millions in the case of a paralyzed child, would remain fully collectable as before; the mooted limit would apply only to the portion of awards which covered “non-economic” elements such as pain and suffering. (Bush remarks; White House “Policy in Focus“; HHS report on effects of medical liability, PDF format). The Senate Republican Policy Committee has published a paper collecting some of the malpractice-suit-crisis “horror stories” from recent months, with links to accounts in the press (Jul. 25). See also Steve Friess, “Liability costs drive doctors from practice”, Christian Science Monitor, Jul. 17; “Soaring Liability Costs Blamed for Non-Profit Nursing Home Closures”, Dallas Morning News, Jul. 25 (reg); Corpus Christi (Tex.) Caller special section, letters. Sasha Volokh and correspondents discuss the federalism angles (Jul. 27). (DURABLE LINK)

July 29 — Law lectures needn’t be dull. We were familiar with some of the writings of Harvard law prof David Rosenberg, but we had no idea his lecture style was so … colorful, as evidenced by this best-of collection (Harvard Law Record, 1999) (via Eve Tushnet, Jul. 25, who got it from Stuart Buck, Jul. 22 and Jul. 25; and thanks to Dan Lewis for the web-archive link). (DURABLE LINK)

July 29 — New medium, new opportunities. John Steele Gordon, the history-of-business columnist for American Heritage and author of such acclaimed books as A Thread Across the Ocean and The Business of America, devotes his new column to comparing the rise of online publishing with the technological developments, such as the rotary press, that ushered in the era of the metropolitan newspaper in the years before the American Civil War. “When the young can enter a business and experiment with new technology at little risk, revolution is on the way.” Small internet news-gathering and news-assemblage sites can now “have a great impact. … [One of them] has been giving tort lawyers and activist judges fits by assembling in one much-visited site called overlawyered.com the most egregious lawsuits and decisions from around the country and beyond. It makes for reading that is often hilarious, infuriating, and sad at the same time.” (“The Man Who Invented the Newspaper”, Aug./Sept.). (More on weblog impact: John Leo, “Flogged by Bloggers”, U.S. News, Aug. 5). While on the subject of nice publicity, we won’t even try to summarize all the additional exposure this site and its editor have gotten in the past few days from the lawyers-sue-fast-food controversy, but we will note that our editor’s O’Reilly Factor appearance of last Tuesday, on educational lawsuits, is now online at FoxNews.com (“Watch out Teachers!”, Jul. 24). (DURABLE LINK)

July 26-28 — Fat suits, cont’d. George Washington University law prof John Banzhaf, who got himself so much publicity in the tobacco round, says he’s advising the plaintiff who just announced that he’s suing fast-food chains, so we know the suit must be serious (right?) (Geraldine Sealey, “Fat suits filed”, ABC News, Jul. 25; BBC, “Fat Americans sue fast food firms”, Jul. 25, and “Talking Points“). As for our editor, he’s in considerable demand on the subject, having appeared over the past day on (among others) Fox News Network, CBS radio, and the BBC. This just in: debating our editor on Laura Ingraham’s radio show Friday evening, Banzhaf announced that he is working up a possible suit against milk marketers which will charge that the “Milk Moustache” campaign should give rise to liability because it doesn’t warn consumers that skim milk is sometimes better for you than whole milk. Is he serious? He sure sounded like it (discussion on Democratic Underground). (DURABLE LINK)

July 26-28 — Third Circuit: prisoners may be entitled to watch R-rated films. “Inmates in federal prisons who challenged a ban on allowing them to watch movies rated R or NC-17 have won a new shot at making their case now that a federal appeals court has ruled that a Western District of Pennsylvania judge was too quick to rule in favor of the government. In Wolf v. Ashcroft, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin of the Western District of Pennsylvania ‘did not conduct a proper, thorough analysis’ of whether the ban is ‘reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.'” The trial judge’s ruling against the prisoners, furthermore, “improperly relied on ‘common sense'”. (Shannon P. Duffy, “Prisoners’ Suit Over R-Rated Movies Worth Another Look, Says 3rd Circuit”, The Legal Intelligencer, Jul. 25). (DURABLE LINK)

July 26-28 — Skittish at Kinko’s. The clerk at the copy shop raises objections to a request to photocopy a newspaper column: “Do you have permission to duplicate this copyrighted material?” But it’s my column, the customer protests — I wrote it! “Look — my picture is on the top.” “He told me that didn’t matter, that corporate Kinko’s was overburdened with copyright lawsuits, and consequently he wasn’t about to run my copy job. Sheesh.” (“Inane Laws and Egotistical Copy Men”, Cornell Daily Sun, Mar. 4). (DURABLE LINK)

July 26-28 — Update: cost of clipboard-throwing only $8 million. A San Diego judge has reduced the damage award from $30 million to $8 million in a case against the Ralphs supermarket chain over the conduct of a manager who over the course of a decade is alleged to have verbally harassed female employees and thrown such objects as a telephone and clipboard at them. Superior Court judge Michael Anello called the damages “grossly excessive” and the result of the jury’s “passion and prejudice,” and said “the evidence was insufficient to support the conclusion that defendant [corporation] approved of or ratified [the manager’s] conduct.” The decision is “a slap in the face of women’s rights,” countered the plaintiffs’ co-counsel (see Apr. 19-21) (Alexei Oreskovic, “Judge Slashes Sex Harassment Damages Against Ralphs Grocery”, The Recorder, Jul. 17). (DURABLE LINK)

July 25 — “Ailing Man Sues Fast-Food Firms”. You knew it was coming: “A New York City lawyer has filed suit against the four big fast-food corporations, saying their fatty foods are responsible for his client’s obesity and related health problems. Samuel Hirsch filed his lawsuit Wednesday at a New York state court in the Bronx, alleging that McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC Corporation are irresponsible and deceptive in the posting of their nutritional information, that they need to offer healthier options on their menus, and that they create a de facto addiction in their consumers, particularly the poor and children.” Quotes our editor, who takes the dim view of the suit that you would expect (Michael Y. Park, FoxNews.com, Jul. 24). (DURABLE LINK)

July 25 — “Surgeon halts operation over foreign nurses’ poor English”. Britain: “A surgeon at a leading hospital has said he had to stop halfway through an operation because foreign nurses could not follow his instructions. As a result, he said he has been threatened with disciplinary action for racism. David Nunn, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals, in London, told The Telegraph that he was unable to complete the operation last week without certain instruments. When he asked the nurses, all of whom were foreign, to find them, ‘I was met with a selection of bemused reactions,’ he said. ‘They were produced only when the scrub nurse de-scrubbed and went to find them herself.’ Mr Dunn, 48, said his superiors had accused him of racism and threatened him with being disciplined.” Dunn said the influx of nurses from outside Britain are “without doubt well-trained and dedicated professionals, but if medical staff cannot communicate effectively then patients’ care may be put at risk.” Careful what you say, doc… (Richard Eden, Daily Telegraph, Jul. 22). (DURABLE LINK)

July 25 — “Licensing Deadline Sneaks Up In District”. “Consultants, landlords, music teachers, nannies, massage therapists and other home-based workers in the District face fines of as much as $500 if they do not obtain a new type of city license by Aug. 31, but most are unaware of it. Self-employed individuals and District firms, including nonprofit groups, that collect more than $2,000 in annual revenue will have to obtain a master business license to legally sell their services.” More “than 60,000 businesses and individuals in the District face fines of as much as $500 if they don’t obtain a new type of city license by Aug. 31” — and have things really reached the point where it’s going to require a license from the government to practice independent journalism from your apartment? (Avram Goldstein, Washington Post, Jul. 21; “How D.C. Creates Chaos” (editorial), Jul. 23; Eugene Volokh, Jul. 23). (DURABLE LINK)

July 24 — Smog fee case: “unreal world of greed”. A California appeals court has thrown out an arbitration panel’s $88.5 million award of attorneys’ fees, amounting to an estimated $8,800/hour, to five law firms which had prosecuted a case against the state of California arguing the unconstitutionality of its former assessment of “smog impact fees” on cars registered from out of state. “The justices called the panel’s $88.5 million fee award ‘an unconstitutional gift of public funds’ that was not authorized by the Legislature. In a scathing concurring opinion, Justice Richard Sims said the award from the arbitration panel was ‘completely in outer space.’ ‘The fact that attorneys even requested a fee award of that magnitude from the taxpayers,’ Sims wrote, ‘is a testament to the unreal world of greed in which some attorneys practice law in this day and age.'” The five law firms included Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, long a major political donor in California, as well as “New York’s Weiss & Yourman; San Diego’s Sullivan, Hill, Lewin, Rez & Engel; La Jolla, Calif.’s Blumenthal & Markham, and Berkeley, Calif., solo practitioner Richard Pearl.” (see Dec. 5, 2000, Jun. 22, 2001)(Robert Salladay, “Court rips $8,800 an hour in attorneys’ fees”, San Francisco Chronicle, Jul. 23; Mike McKee, “California Appeals Court Rips $88M Fee Award in Smog Case”, The Recorder, Jul. 23). (DURABLE LINK)

July 24 — Update: “Harassment by kids gets ex-teacher 50G” Following up on a story from last month: the city of New York has agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former Queens teacher who says his students had harassed him by way of derogatory comments about his immigrant status (from Sri Lanka), accent and ethnicity. “Legal experts said the suit was the first of its kind in which a teacher successfully brought a civil rights action alleging that students had created a ‘hostile work environment.'” The other noteworthy feature of the dispute (see Jun. 26) is the defense the city put forth, namely that it was powerless to discipline the students, who had special education (disabled) status, for insulting the teacher “because students with that classification have already been identified as having behavioral problems, and the verbal misconduct might be considered a manifestation of their disability,” as a city lawyer put it (John Marzulli, “Harassment by kids gets teacher 50K”, New York Daily News, Jul. 22). (DURABLE LINK)

July 23 — Welcome O’Reilly Factor viewers. Our editor was a guest on the top-rated TV talk show this evening, interviewed one-on-one by host Bill O’Reilly on the subject of parents threatening to sue teachers over their kids’ bad grades. We mentioned the recent Arizona case and an earlier Ohio case that we understand has been dismissed by the court; and here’s our theme page on overlawyered schools. (DURABLE LINK)

July 22-23 — Politicos’ “stagey” outrage at balance-sheet sins. “John Walker Lindh got 20 years this week for joining a terrorist network at war with his country. Lucky for him he didn’t try something really bad, like capitalizing an expense item. … President Bush, who spent 56 years on this earth without revealing the slightest passion for corporate reform, now says life will be intolerable if he doesn’t have a bill to sign within a couple of weeks. And he has sent signals that he doesn’t give much of a hoot what is in it.” (Michael Kinsley, “Stock Option Cure-All”, Washington Post, Jul. 19). “Even now, the mob waving pitchforks and torches finds the details of accounting, compensation and corporate governance too tedious to take seriously. But ‘reforms’ that ignore the role of incentives and competition will turn out to be monsters themselves.” (Virginia Postrel, “Business ‘Reforms’ Should Not Ignore Incentives and Competition”, New York Times, Jul. 18 (reg)). (DURABLE LINK)

July 22-23 — Nightmare under the palms. You retire to a Florida condo, and imagine that the hassles of life are over — that is, until you discover that a couple of your neighbors have turned asserting their legal rights into an art form. (Joe Kollin, “Sunrise condo residents get socked with bill because neighbors won’t pay”, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Jul. 19). (DURABLE LINK)

July 22-23 — Disabled testing: hence, loathèd asterisk. In a settlement with a disabled-rights litigation group, the College Board has agreed to stop flagging the test scores of students who got extra time or other accommodations in taking its college admissions test. The effect will be to allow applicants to conceal from colleges whether they “took the test under normal conditions, or used a computer, worked in a separate quiet room, and had four and a half hours for the three-hour test. … High school guidance counselors said the elimination of flagging could set off a wave of new applications for accommodations, including some from students without real disabilities. … most of those who are accommodated have attention deficit problems or learning disabilities like dyslexia, a reading disorder.” “It’s very clear who’s been getting extended-time: the highest-income communities have the highest rates of accommodations,” said Bruce Poch, the dean of admissions at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. “I think what’s going to have to happen now is that everyone will, in effect, get more time.” (Tamar Lewin, “Abuse Is Feared as SAT Test Changes Disability Policy”, New York Times, Jul. 15 (reg)). Among commenters: Kimberly Swygert at No. 2 Pencil (Jul. 15 and 17) and Joanne Jacobs (Jul. 15 and Jul. 17). We covered the controversy back in February 1999, May 10, 2000 and Feb. 9-11, 2001. (DURABLE LINK)

July 22-23 — Last-minute friends in Texas politics. “In 1998 [John] Sharp narrowly lost the lieutenant governor’s race to Republican Mr. Perry, who later became governor when George W. Bush became president.” Sharp drew about 15 percent of his financial backing from trial lawyers in that race, which actually probably isn’t all that high a percentage for a Lone Star Democrat. What was interesting was the timing: “A review by The News of finance reports in that matchup indicates that nearly half Mr. Sharp’s trial lawyer support came in the final eight days of the campaign and was not reported until after the race. For example, a few days before the election, Mr. Sharp collected $250,000 from Houston trial lawyer John Eddie Williams and $150,000 apiece from lawyers Walter Umphrey of Beaumont and Harold Nix of Daingerfield. And he got $15,000 from Michael Gallagher of Houston.” Reports of trial lawyer backing can damage a candidate in Texas campaigns, but when the lawyers donate at the last minute the voters may be none the wiser as they troop to the polls (Wayne Slater, “Trial lawyers’ cash at issue”, Dallas Morning News, Jul. 13). (DURABLE LINK)

June 2002 archives, part 2


June 19-20 — Supreme Court clarifies ADA. This term the Supreme Court handed down four decisions interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act, in each case rejecting expansive readings of the law. Our editor analyzed the three employment cases in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (Walter Olson, “Supreme Court Rescues ADA From Its Zealots,” Wall Street Journal, Jun. 18 (online subscribers only)). See also David J. Reis and Dipanwita Deb Amar, “U.S. Supreme Court in ‘Echazabal’ Puts Federal, State Disability Laws in Line”, The Recorder, Jun. 17) (even California employment law, nearly always more favorable for employees than its federal counterpart, acknowledges that employees may refuse to employ disabled workers in jobs that endanger their safety). (DURABLE LINK)

June 19-20 — Judicializing politics (cont’d). Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), active in the 1998 battle over impeachment of then-Pres. Clinton, “has filed suit in a Washington federal court against the former president, Clinton loyalist James Carville and politically active pornographer Larry Flynt seeking compensatory damages ‘in excess of $30 million’ for ‘loss of reputation and emotional distress’ and ‘injury in his person and property’ allegedly caused by these three — who Barr claims conspired to ‘hinder [the plaintiff] in the lawful discharge of his duties.'” Barr is being represented by Larry Klayman of the famously litigious organization Judicial Watch (see Apr. 16-17). (Lloyd Grove, “Bob Barr’s Believe It or Not”, Washington Post, Jun. 13). (DURABLE LINK)

June 19-20 — To run a Bowery flophouse, hire a good lawyer. What with New York City’s absurdly anti-landlord rental code and the ongoing predations of publicly funded legal services groups, “it takes a tough lawyer to run a decent flophouse.” (John Tierney, “A Flophouse With a View (on Survival)”, New York Times, Jun. 11). Tierney, whose columns have been a highlight of the Times‘ Metro section, is moving to Washington to cover that city for the paper. (DURABLE LINK)

June 19-20 — “Suits Against Schools Explore New Turf”. Sexual harassment suits are on the rise, suits demanding concessions for special education students are already well-established, and although many states’ laws give schools some protection against personal-injury suits, “attorneys are finding creative new ways to get around the roadblocks”. (Alan Fisk, National Law Journal, Jun. 11). (DURABLE LINK)

June 17-18 — No “flood” of Muslim or Arab discrimination complaints. After the terrorist attacks last fall some major media outlets reported that state and local civil rights agencies were being flooded with complaints of discrimination by Muslims and persons of Arab descent. Notwithstanding a widely publicized recent suit against airlines for alleged misdeeds in passenger security profiling (see Jun. 6), the official numbers on other types of discrimination cases “tell a less alarming story. While there certainly was a hike in such bias claims since September, it’s hard to say that the increase was serious or even statistically significant.” (Jim Edwards, “Post-Sept. 11 ‘Backlash’ Proves Difficult to Quantify”, New Jersey Law Journal, Jun. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

June 17-18 — Spitzer riding high. In the New York Times Magazine, James Traub profiles New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, currently enjoying a wave of favorable publicity after negotiating a settlement in which Merrill Lynch agreed to change its analyst policy and fork over money to the states; Spitzer’s efforts to bludgeon the national gun industry into accepting unlegislated gun controls, however, have been markedly less successful. Quotes this site’s editor (James Traub, “The Attorney General Goes to War”, New York Times Magazine, Jun. 16). On abusive litigation by AGs, see the recently published analysis by Cumberland law prof Michael DeBow, “Restraining State Attorneys General, Curbing Government Lawsuit Abuse” (Cato Policy Analysis No. 437, May 10). On the federalism angle, see Michael S. Greve, “Free Eliot Spitzer!”, American Enterprise Institute Federalist Outlook, May-June. Plus: Boston Globe columnist Charles Stein on the trouble with policymaking by prosecution, also quotes our editor (“Memo to Policy Makers: Make Policy”, Jun. 16). (DURABLE LINK)

June 17-18 — Jury nails “The Hammer”. Rochester, N.Y.: “A state Supreme Court jury nailed personal-injury lawyer James ‘The Hammer’ Shapiro with a $1.9 million judgment Tuesday in a legal-malpractice case. Jurors found that Shapiro, best known for flamboyant television commercials in which he promises to deliver big cash to accident victims, mishandled the case of client Christopher Wagner, who was critically injured in a two-car crash in Livingston County. They also found that Shapiro’s advertising, which led Wagner to him, was false and misleading. … Wagner’s lawyers, Patrick Burke and Robert Williams, said the award should chasten Shapiro, who gleefully refers to himself as ‘the meanest, nastiest S.O.B. in town’ in his commercials.”

After suffering a severe auto crash which left him in a coma for a month, Wagner “hired Shapiro after his brother saw one of Shapiro’s TV commercials. Wagner dealt with a paralegal and never met a lawyer from Shapiro’s firm until after he agreed to a $65,000 settlement.” The jury found that the law firm had negligently failed to press Wagner’s case against the other motorist, instead accepting from that motorist’s insurer a settlement which undervalued the case and was insufficient to pay Wagner’s medical bills. “Shapiro, whose firm of Shapiro and Shapiro is based in Rochester, didn’t attend the trial. He testified by a videotaped deposition in which he admitted that he has never tried a case in court, leaves the legal work to subordinates and lives in Florida.” (Michael Ziegler, “Award claws ‘The Hammer'”, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Jun. 12)(link now dead). Shapiro is also known for his role in websites entitled Million Dollar Lungs (asbestos client recruitment) and CPalsy.com (“Your child’s cerebral palsy may be the result of a mistake. Don’t Get Mad, Get Even”). See also Dec. 5, 2003. Update May 24, 2004: court suspends Shapiro from practice in New York for one year. (DURABLE LINK)

June 17-18 — Not worth the hassle? “Home Depot Inc., the nation’s largest hardware and home-improvement chain, has told its 1,400 stores not to do business with the U.S. government or its representatives.” Most managers in the chain surveyed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said “they had received instructions from Home Depot’s corporate headquarters this month not to take government credit cards, purchase orders or even cash if the items are being used by the federal government. … One Home Depot associate at a store in San Diego said, ‘It feels weird telling some kid in uniform that I can’t sell him 10 gallons of paint because we don’t do business with the government.'” Although the Atlanta-based chain is close-lipped about the reasons for its policy, companies that sell more than nominal quantities of products or services to the federal government risk being designated as federal contractors, a status that brings them under a large body of regulation over their practices in employment and other areas. (Andrew Schneider, “Home Depot stops doing business with federal government”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jun. 16). Update Jul. 1-2: company reverses policy. (DURABLE LINK)

June 17-18 — Alamo’s stand. “Alamo Rent A Car had no ‘duty to warn’ a Dutch couple visiting Miami not to drive into high-crime areas of the city, lawyers for the company told a three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal Wednesday in an effort to overturn a $5.2 million jury verdict. Lawyers for Alamo told the judges that there is no way their client could have known that the couple would venture into Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, where Tosca Dieperink was shot to death as she sat in the rental car in 1996.” We last covered this story Jun. 29, 2000, at which time we wondered: how many different kinds of legal trouble would Alamo have gotten into if it had warned its customers to stay out of the toughest urban neighborhoods? (Susan R. Miller, “Car Rental Agency Fights $5.2M Verdict for Slain Tourist”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jun. 14). (DURABLE LINK)

June 14-16 — “Civil Rights Agency Retaliated Against Worker, EEOC Rules”. Do as we say dept.: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the federal agency which claims for itself the role of public watchdog on discrimination matters, unlawfully retaliated against its former staff solicitor, Emma Monroig, after she filed a discrimination complaint against it in 1995. The commission, which has a staff of about 75, has been hit with nine recent EEOC complaints from employees, of which at least three have been settled. (Darryl Fears, Washington Post, Jun. 13). (DURABLE LINK)

June 14-16 — Dealership on the hook. “A Michigan auto dealership that failed to complete the title transfer on a car involved in a fatal accident has been hit with a $12 million jury verdict.” In July 1999 Les Stanford Oldsmobile in suburban Troy allowed Mohammad Bazzi, then 20, to drive away his newly purchased 1996 Camaro convertible although the paperwork to transfer title was not complete. Bazzi was supposed to return to sign the papers, but never made it: two days later, driving intoxicated at an estimated 100 mph on I-75 at 2:30 in the morning, he smashed the car into the rear of a slower moving truck, killing his 18-year-old passenger, Ronny Hashem. Hashem’s survivors sued the dealership citing Michigan’s 70-year-old Owner Liability Statute, “which holds the owner of a car liable whenever the car is being operated consensually”. (Peter Page, “High-Speed Death”, National Law Journal, Jun. 12). (DURABLE LINK)

June 14-16 — Batch of reader letters. Readers take issue with our coverage of a Canadian court’s ruling on welfare reform (we stand accused of citing a conservative columnist) and of the recent suit against a baseball-bat maker by a teenager hit by a line drive; offer a different perspective on the Audubon String Quartet litigation; and track down the drunk driving defense law firm that has trademarked the phrase “Friends don’t let friends plead guilty”. (DURABLE LINK)

June 13 — Breaking news: slaying at Texas law firm. 79-year-old Richard Joseph Gerzine of Vidor, Tex. is in custody following a fatal shooting at the offices of the prominent Beaumont plaintiff’s firm of Reaud, Morgan & Quinn, known for its role in the asbestos and tobacco controversies. The victim was senior partner Cris Quinn. The perpetrator was said to have been angered by the law firm’s refusal to represent him in an asbestos case. (Beaumont Enterprise, Jun. 13; AP/Houston Chronicle, Jun. 13). (DURABLE LINK)

June 13 — “Student gets diploma after threatening lawsuit”. “A threatening letter from her lawyer and an opportunity to retake an exam hours before graduation helped a West Valley high school student get her diploma last month. … On May 22, Stan Massad, a Glendale attorney representing the Peoria family, faxed a letter to [English teacher Elizabeth] Joice asking her to take ‘whatever action is necessary’ for the student to graduate or the family would be forced to sue. ‘Of course, all information regarding your background, your employment records, all of your class records, past and present, dealings with this and other students becomes relevant, should litigation be necessary,’ he wrote to the teacher.” (Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor, Arizona Republic, Jun. 10; lawyer’s letter; teacher’s response; Joanne Jacobs, Jun. 12).

UPDATE: The case has mushroomed into a cause celebre in Phoenix (Arizona Republic coverage: Maggie Galehouse, “Decision to allow Peoria student to graduate draws outrage”, Jun. 12; “State Bar probes threat against teacher over student’s graduation”, Jun. 13; “Failing your classes? Get a better lawyer”, (editorial), Jun. 11; “Pathetic plight in Peoria” (editorial), Jun. 12; Benson cartoon, Jun. 11; Richard Ruelas, “Lawyer made an offer school couldn’t refuse”, Jun. 12). In the blog world, see Thomas Vincent, Jun. 11 and later posts; Edward Boyd, Jun. 11 and later posts; DesertPundit, Jun. 13. And InstaPundit and “Max Power” discuss issues of whether the lawyer might face bar discipline and why the family members have been allowed to keep their names confidential. More update: Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor, “Peoria district issues an apology for furor”, Arizona Republic, Jun. 15. (DURABLE LINK)

June 13 — “The NFL Vs. Everyone”. “Why is it that football players/owners/teams are in court all the time? And why would the Broncos sue fans? The NFL is a great case study in litigiousness gone haywire.” (Dan Lewis, dlewis.net, Jun. 12; see “NFL Bootleg: Making the Court Circuit”, Bootleg Sports/FoxSports, Jun. 12). Lewis’s blog also calls our attention (Jun. 11) to this article explaining one remarkable implication of new “medical privacy” laws: “Law May Forbid Leagues to Say if Player Is Hurt” (Buster Olney, New York Times, Jun. 11 (reg)) (DURABLE LINK)

June 13 — He’s at it again. It seems Kevin Phillips has published another of his awful books. Here’s what we said about one of the earlier ones. (DURABLE LINK)

June 11-12 — “French ban sought for Fallaci book on Islam”. The true meaning of hate-speech laws? In France, an “anti-racist” group has filed a legal action demanding a ban on the publication of a new book by outspoken Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci criticizing Islamic fundamentalism and defending the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (Reuters/MSNBC, Jun. 10)(& welcome InstaPundit readers). (DURABLE LINK)

June 11-12 — Malpractice crisis latest. More problems with the notion of suing our way to quality medical care: Philadelphia’s Jefferson Hospital, citing rising malpractice insurance bills, has laid off 99 workers and eliminated 80 vacant jobs. (Linda Loyd, “Jefferson Hospital cuts 179 positions”, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 21). Brandywine Hospital, which operates the only trauma center in Chester County, Pa., said it would temporarily close its center, with the result that “trauma patients — the most severely injured accident victims — will be diverted to trauma centers at hospitals in surrounding counties.”. It blamed malpractice costs for difficulty in recruiting qualified physicians (Josh Goldstein, “Hospital closing trauma center”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jun. 5). The closure of a Wilkes-Barre ob/gyn practice typifies the forces driving doctors out of Pennsylvania, according to the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (M. Paul Jackson, “Frustrated doctors look to quit area”, May 1). The supply of neurosurgeons in central Texas is likewise under pressure, resulting in the family of an accident victim’s “being told a city of Austin’s size had no spine surgeon available when they desperately needed one”. (Mary Ann Roser, “Neurosurgeons in short supply”, Austin American-Statesman, May 19). Update: Francis X. Clines, “Insurance-Squeezed Doctors Folding Tents in West Virginia”, New York Times, Jun. 13). (DURABLE LINK)

June 11-12 — Flash: law firm with sense of humor. This one’s been around for a while, but we’ve never paid it due tribute: Denver’s Powers Phillips maintains the only law firm website we’ve seen that’s laugh-out-loud funny (and even manages to tell you a lot about the firm) (& update:Metafilter thread). (DURABLE LINK)

June 11-12 — “San Francisco Verdict Bodes Ill for Oil Industry”. Oil refiners are unhappy about a recent verdict in which a West Coast jury declared that the gasoline additive MTBE, which has a nasty tendency to seep into water tables, is defective and should never have been marketed. The refiners have contended that the federal government itself pushed the industry into adding MTBE to gasoline by way of the Clean Air Act’s 1990 amendments, which mandated the use of reformulated and oxygenated gas to reduce air pollution. At least two earlier courts did accept that defense, but now the industry may stand exposed to potential billions in damages. (June D. Bell, National Law Journal, May 3). Background: Energy Information Administration, “MTBE, Oxygenates, and Motor Gasoline” (Mar. 2000). (DURABLE LINK)

June 11-12 — Welcome “Media Watch” (Australia). On the Australian Broadcasting Corp. program, which monitors the press, Steve Price traces the circulation of the much-forwarded “Stella Awards”, a list of (fictitious, invented) outrageous lawsuits (see Aug. 27, 2001) (June 10). (DURABLE LINK)

March 2002 archives, part 2


March 20-21 — No more restaurant doggie bags. In Australia, the restaurant doggie bag is in decline because of fears that patrons will store food at improper temperatures, allowing the growth of food-poisoning bacteria. “The Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which has 142 hotel restaurants across the country, has banned patrons from taking home leftovers. Victoria has already brought in anti-doggie-bag legislation, with other states tipped to follow before the end of the year, Mr Deakin said. ‘If we are the cooker of the food we are liable,’ he said.” (“Restaurants ban doggie bags”, The Advertiser (Adelaide), Mar. 18). Meanwhile, in the U.K.: “Some restaurants in Britain are forcing customers who like their meat rare to sign a disclaimer form before eating due to fears of the risk of E. coli and salmonella poisoning, the Sunday Times newspaper reported.” (“British Eaters Who Like Rare Meat Sign Disclaimers”, Reuters/Yahoo, Mar. 18).

March 20-21 — “School told to rehire cocaine abuser”. Florida: “Escambia County Schools must rehire a school employee who reported to work with cocaine in his system – 50 times above the cutoff level for a positive drug test. Robert K. Sites III, 37, initially was terminated after arriving at Brentwood Middle School on Aug. 10 in an agitated and nervous state. A ‘reasonable suspicion’ drug test revealed cocaine metabolites in his system. An independent arbitrator ruled this month that a penalty less severe than termination was warranted and wants Sites rehired with full pay and benefits.” (Lisa Osburn, Pensacola News Journal, Mar. 15). Under zero tolerance rules, of course, schools can suspend or even expel a student for possessing aspirin or other ordinary over-the-counter drugs.

March 20-21 — Lawyer: deep-pocket defendants are real culprits in identity theft. Perpetrators of the fast-growing crime of “identity theft” sometimes use fraud, stealth or dumpster-diving to obtain data on potential victims from businesses in the form of credit card or employment data. “Companies that contribute to identity theft by failing to protect their customers’ and employees’ Social Security numbers and other personal information could be held liable, some observers warn. Although relatively few cases of this type have been filed so far, some observers predict that with the incidence of identity theft rising, more frustrated victims will successfully sue companies that fail to protect this information … Sean B. Hoar, Eugene, Ore.-based assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon, said he has spoken to groups of plaintiffs attorneys on the topic and the reaction has been ‘My gosh, this is a huge new area for civil litigation because of the likely liability that will be incurred.’ ‘I think that victims of identity theft are becoming much more cognizant of the fact that they have been hurt more by the negligent or careless acts of the companies than they are by the criminals,’ said Mari Frank, a Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based attorney who has specialized in the area of identity theft since she became a victim herself in 1996.” (Judy Greenwald, “ID theft suits in the cards”, Business Insurance, Mar. 4, subscriber-based site).

March 20-21 — McElroy on wrongful life suits. FoxNews.com columnist Wendy McElroy surveys the burgeoning field of “wrongful life” and “wrongful birth” suits following “the birth of a disabled child whom the mother would have aborted had she received adequate medical information.” The concept has been familiar in American courts for years and has cropped up in France and Australia recently as well. “The human cost of this new litigation is terrible. Parents publicly tell a child that they wish he or she had never been born.” (Wendy McElroy, “Parents Sue Doctors for ‘Wrongful Birth’ of Disabled Child”, FoxNews.com, Mar. 19)(see Aug. 22, 2001).

March 19 — Teen beauty pageant lands in court. In suburban Detroit, the outcome of this year’s Miss Teen St. Clair Shores beauty pageant was tainted, according to parent Barbara Scheurman’s legal complaint on behalf of her 15-year-old daughter Jennifer, which is expected to reach a local court next month. The controversy concerns whether the winning contestant should have been allowed to redo her talent presentation; a $200 savings bond and crown was the prize. (Tony Scotta, “Shores pageant judge defends her ruling”, Macomb Daily, Mar. 13).

March 19 — So depressed he stole $300K. Minnesota prosecutors are charging appeals court judge Roland Amundson, 52, who has resigned from the bench, with stealing more than $300,000 from a trust fund that a father had left for his developmentally disabled daughter. The judge’s attorney, Ron Meshbesher, said his client plans to plead guilty and “attributed Amundson’s actions to depression that followed his mother’s death”. According to prosecutors, however, his honor was not too depressed to put part of the money to use “to buy bronze statues, marble flooring, antique chairs and other items for himself.” (Pam Louwagie and Randy Furst, “Judge charged with stealing $300,000 from woman’s trust”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 27; Elizabeth Stawicki, “Court’s credibility damaged by Amundson, judges say”, Minnesota Public Radio, Mar. 11). Update July 1-2: sentenced to 69 months. (DURABLE LINK)

March 19 — “Bad movie, bad public policy”. Among reasons to skip the Denzel Washington vehicle John Q: “at the end of the movie, we see real footage of Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson advocating for expanded federal health insurance. Last time I checked, though, countries with government-run health plans were less likely to give dying kids organ transplants, or the powerful drugs needed to keep their bodies from rejecting the new organs after the operation.” (Robert Goldberg (Manhattan Institute), “Painful John Q“, National Review Online, Mar. 8).

March 18 — Injured in “human hockey puck” stunt. “An Avon man has sued the Colorado Avalanche hockey team for negligence, claiming he was seriously injured during a ‘human hockey puck’ event Dec. 13, 2000, at the Pepsi Center. Ryan Netzer claims that during one of the intermissions, he was selected to take part in the event, in which he was slung by a bungee cord across the ice rink on a metal sled, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Denver District Court.” Joseph Bloch, Netzer’s lawyer, says the organizers omitted protective padding that was supposed to be on boards into which his client slammed, suffering two leg fractures. “Prior to the event, Netzer signed a waiver.” (Howard Pankratz, “Fan sues Avalanche over stunt injuries”, Denver Post, Mar. 15).

March 18 — Couldn’t order 7-Up in French. “A federal government employee is suing Air Canada for more than $500,000 because he could not order a 7-Up in French.” Michel Thibodeau, 34, has already won a favorable determination from the Commissioner of Official Languages over the incident on an Aug. 14, 2000 flight from Montreal to Ottawa which resulted in an altercation after Mr. Thibodeau, “who is fluently bilingual, was unable to use French to order a 7-Up”. He wants $525,000 and an apology. “‘I am not asking for a right here, I am exercising a right I already have,’ Mr. Thibodeau said shortly after filing his lawsuit.” (Ron Corbett, “Air Canada sued over language dispute”, Ottawa Citizen/National Post, Mar. 2).

March 18 — Columnist-fest. Perennial-favorite scribes come through for readers again:

* Those consumer-battering steel import quotas are just temporary, says President Bush, and if you believe that … (Steve Chapman, “Relief from imports, for as long as it takes”, Chicago Tribune, Mar. 14);

* Airport security checking is a “ridiculous charade” because of officialdom’s continued pretense that “the 80-year-old Irish nun, the Hispanic mother of two, the Japanese-American businessman, the House committee chairman with the titanium hip” are all just as likely hijacker candidates as the young Middle Eastern man (Charles Krauthammer, “The Case for Profiling”, Time, Mar. 18; see also “Profiles in Timidity” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, OpinionJournal.com, Jan. 25);

* Dave Kopel says the abusive municipal gun lawsuits have served to galvanize a firearms industry that has historically shied away from politics: “Pearl Harbor day for the gun industry was the day that [New Orleans mayor] Marc Morial filed his lawsuit”. (“Unintended Consequences”, National Review Online, Mar. 6). See also Jacob Sullum, “Too many guns?”, Reason Online, Jan. 4 (on “oversupply” gun-suit theories).

March 15-17 — Texas docs plan walkout. More than 600 physicians in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas are planning to walk off the job April 8 to protest the state’s malpractice climate (Juan Ozuna, “‘Walkout’ Planned by Physicians”, McAllen Monitor, Feb. 16; Mel Huff, “Doctors discuss fallout from lawsuit abuse”, Brownsville Herald, Feb. 21; “The Doctor is Out”, McAllen Monitor, Feb. 19; “Sick system”(editorial), Brownsville Herald, Feb. 22). In famously litigious Beaumont, only one neurosurgeon is left practicing, which Texas Medical Association vice president Kim Ross calls “a scary thing … What if a patient has a car wreck, needs a neurosurgeon, and there’s none available? It’s an hour to Houston. That ‘golden hour’ [when treatment is most beneficial] is lost.” (Vicki Lankarge, “Soaring malpractice premiums bleed doctors, rob consumers”, reprinted by Heartland Institute, Jan.) “Channel-surf wherever you will; sooner or later (probably sooner) you’ll encounter an attorney urging you to bring your problems to him or her. Some are shameless in their opportunism: Have you suffered from respiratory problems? Throat inflammation? Sinus woes? Come see me; let’s find somebody to sue.” More than half of Texas physicians had claims filed against them in 2000, the Dallas Morning News has found. (“Litigation explosion plagues physicians” (editorial), Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Jan. 24 (via CALA Houston)).

March 15-17 — “Before you cheer … ‘Sign here'”. There are few things that trial lawyers loathe with more passion than the liability waivers that schools have parents and students sign before going out for extracurricular activities such as field trips or cheerleading. They’re carrying on a state-by-state campaign to get courts to strike down such waivers, voluntarily entered or not. (Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 12).

March 15-17 — “Politicians’ Syllogism”.

“Step One: We must do something;

“Step Two: This is something;

“Step Three: Therefore we must do it.”

— Jonathan Lynn & Antony Jay in the British television series “Yes, Minister” (via Prog Review; site on show; Hugh Davies, “Celebrities and friends say fond farewell to Sir Nigel”, Daily Telegraph, Jan. 10 (memorial for show star Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who died Dec. 26)).

March 13-14 — “Greedy or Just Green?”. “In the last few days of December, Kamran Ghalchi sent more than 3,000 California businesses an unwelcome holiday greeting — legal notices claiming they were in violation of Proposition 65, a one-of-a-kind California law requiring warnings on products that contain potentially dangerous chemicals. More than half of Ghalchi’s December notices were filed against car dealers and other automotive businesses throughout the state. Warnings at gas stations are a familiar sight to Californians, but car dealers do not warn customers that buying a car could expose them to oil, gasoline and car exhaust. In a letter offering to settle with one dealer, Ghalchi demands $7,500 to settle right away: $750 of it in fines to the attorney general, the rest split evenly between Ghalchi and Citizens for Responsible Business, a new Proposition 65 enforcement group that is the plaintiff in all of Ghalchi’s December filings.”

Recent figures from Sacramento indicate that of “citizen suit” settlements by companies for failing to post Prop 65 warnings, less than eight percent of payouts go to the state, while two-thirds go to plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs, and much of the remainder to freelance enforcement groups that work with the lawyers. Even California attorney general Bill Lockyer, no friend of business, detects “an odor of extortion around many of these notices that concerns me'”. (Bob Van Voris, National Law Journal, Feb. 26).

March 13-14 — U.K. soldiers’ claim: brass didn’t warn of war trauma. In Great Britain, a high court lawsuit accuses the Ministry of Defence of “failing to adequately prepare service personnel for their inevitable exposure to the horrors of war”. Nearly 2,000 potential claimants have registered an interest in the action, which seeks to recover for post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Queen’s Counsel Stephen Irwin, arguing on their behalf. “Mr. Irwin said that the case was ‘enormous’, would take a very long time and would cost a ‘great deal of money'”. (“MoD sued over trauma from ‘horrors of war'”, London Times, Mar. 4; Joshua Rozenberg, “2,000 sue MoD over psychiatric injuries of war”, Daily Telegraph, Mar. 5)(see also “Britain’s delicate soldiery”, Dec. 22, 2000).

March 13-14 — Education reforms could serve as basis for new suits. “Robin Hood” lawsuits prevailing on courts to order equalization of spending between rich and poor public school districts have been a dismal failure even on their own terms, undermining local taxpayers’ willingness to shoulder property tax burdens. But undaunted by previous fiascos, activist education lawyers figure the answer is yet more litigation: they’re hoping to latch onto new federal mandates for uniform test scores as the basis for a renewed round of lawsuits arguing that underperforming schools have a constitutional right to more money. (Siobhan Gorman, “Can’t Beat ‘Em? Sue ‘Em!”, Washington Monthly, Dec. 2001).

March 13-14 — I’ve got a legally protected bunch of coconuts. “A Slidell businessman who painted 150 green-and-white coconuts to pass out at the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade got a visit Thursday from a business partner of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which has been tossing gilded and glittery coconuts on Mardi Gras for decades. ‘The guy told me that as soon as I put paint on a coconut, I was infringing on their copyright,’ said Ronnie Dunaway, who owns Dunaway’s Olde Towne Market. ‘I was absolutely dumbfounded that there were laws about what you can and can’t do with a coconut.'” (Paul Rioux, “Zulu partners clamp down on copy-cat coconuts “, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Mar. 8).

March 12 — Texas trial lawyers back GOP PAC. Sneaky? In Houston, plaintiff’s lawyers traditionally aligned with the Democratic Party are funding a “Harris County GOP PAC” which has endorsed candidates in today’s Republican primary for Supreme Court, Congress, the state legislature, and county attorney. Though unaffiliated with the official Republican organization, the PAC has sent voters a slickly produced brochure whose “logo even mimics the official logo of the Harris County Republican Party, which features an elephant inside of a star”. (“Harris County GOP PAC funded by plaintiff’s lawyers”, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Houston, undated March; John Williams, “Republicans want distance from PAC”, Houston Chronicle, Mar. 7).

March 12 — Liability concerns fell giant sequoia. “The Sonora Union High School District, owner of the property, had been concerned about liability if the 85-foot-tall tree fell on its own.” (Melanie Turner, “Giant sequoia felled despite legal wrangling”, Modesto Bee, Feb. 23) (via MaxPower blog, Feb. 17).

March 12 — A “Jenny Jones Show” question. Why do ads for injury lawyers so often air on the same TV shows as debt-restructuring ads aimed at viewers desperate for financial relief? — wonders blogger Patrick Ruffini (March 8).

March 11 — Fast-food roundup. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that McDonald’s Corp. is on the verge of settling lawsuits brought on behalf of vegetarians over its use of beef extract as a flavoring agent for French fries; the terms include “$10 million to charities that support vegetarianism and $2.4 million to plaintiffs’ attorneys.” Yum! (Ameet Sachdev, “McDonald’s nears deal on fries suit”, Chicago Tribune, March 7; AP/Fox News, Mar. 9; see May 4, 2001, and Rediff.com coverage: May 4, May 8, July 3, 2001). Public health activists are taking aim at the food industry’s sinister ploy of providing customers with big portions, in a contrast with the inflationary 1970s when activists denounced the same companies’ shock-horror practice of shrinking the size of the candy bar or taco (Randy Dotinga, “Super-Size Portion Causing U.S. Distortion”, HealthScoutNews/ Yahoo, Feb. 19). Whatever happened to the old notion of “leave some on the plate for Miss Manners”, anyway? On EnterStageRight.com, Steven Martinovich analyzes the next-tobacco-izing of snack food, quoting our editor on the subject (“The next moral crusade”, Feb. 25). Also see accounts on ConsumerFreedom.com: Jan. 24, Jan. 30, Feb. 5. And a lefty commentator for a British newspaper has concluded that our battle with the waistline is really all capitalism’s fault: Will Hutton, “Fat is a capitalist issue”, The Observer, Jan. 27.

March 11 — Parole board’s consideration of drug history could violate ADA. In a case filed by inmates at the state prison in Vacaville, Calif., a Ninth Circuit panel has ruled that parole boards may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act if they regard a prisoner’s history of drug addiction as a reason to accord any less favorable disposition to his request to be turned loose early, such history counting as a disability protected under the law. Sara Norman, a lawyer for the inmates, said the ruling “might also apply to those suffering mental disabilities covered by the ADA. … The panel also suggested that the ADA covers a panoply of law enforcement decision making, including arrests.” The case “could lead to a swell of court challenges”. (Jason Hoppin, “ADA Applies to Decisions About Parole, Says 9th Circuit”, The Recorder, Mar. 11).

March 11 — Editorial-fest. Sense is breaking out all over: “The government’s impulsive entrance into the victim-compensation business was born of a one-time mix of compassion and political expediency, but it sets an unaffordable precedent at a time when the nation faces the likelihood of more terrorist acts.” (“Why Is One Terrorism Victim Different from Another?” (editorial) USA Today, Mar. 8). The Washington Post, which has helped lead the case for reform of nationwide class action procedures, is back with another strong editorial on the subject (“Restoring class to class actions”, Mar. 9). And following the lead of its sister Fortune (see Feb. 18-19), Time is out with a piece asking why workers themselves should put up with the widespread abuse of asbestos litigation (“The Asbestos Pit”, Mar. 11).