State attorneys general aggressively use, and frequently misuse, the legal authority often vested in them to sum up in language for voters what a ballot measure would do or mean. One chronic area of frustration: AG summaries of measures intended to bring California public pensions under better fiscal control [Judy Lin, L.A. Times via Steve Greenhut, California Policy Center]
- And she’s a psychology professor too: “Pro se litigant of the day” [ATL]
- “Access to justice” makes handy slogan, but has its limits re: appeal bonds [Ted at PoL]
- New Federalist Society white papers on Michigan, Illinois, California and Alabama supreme courts;
- Per her opponent this year, CPSIA proponent and perennial Overlawyered bete noire Jan Schakowsky ranks as most left-wing member of Congress [ExtremeJan.com]
- Naming opportunity at Faulkner U.’s Jones School of Law falls to Greg Jones of Beasley Allen [BA press release]
- Lockyer pushes divestment of firms for taking wrong stance on ballot controversy [Coyote]
- “Patent marking” suits continue to proliferate as Reps. Latta, Issa propose measures to curb opportunistic filings [Gray on Claims]
- “South Carolina tobacco fees: how to farm money” [ten years ago on Overlawyered]
Readers will recall that acrylamide is a naturally occurring substance formed when many foods are browned or otherwise cooked and that (like countless other constituents of common foods) it appears to cause cancer in some animals at high dosages. California attorney general Jerry Brown has now reached a settlement with some large food companies that will require them to revise recipes for potato chips, French fries and other wares to reduce acrylamide content. Fun fact: one of the ways they may accomplish this goal is by artificially adding a chemical (OK, an enzyme) which works to neutralize acrylamide’s precursors. (Rosie Mestel, “Booster Shots” blog, L.A. Times, Aug. 4).
More: Bill Childs adds, “Oh, and the companies will pay California around $2.5 million.”
A major rebuke for former California AG Bill Lockyer and his successor, Jerry Brown, as well: “A federal judge in San Francisco today threw out a lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General’s office against the six largest automakers in what had been billed as a novel attempt to hold the companies financially liable for global warming. … U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins said it would be inappropriate for the court to wade into issues pertaining to interstate commerce and foreign policy – matters that should be left to the political branches of government.” The judge’s order can be found here (PDF). (Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 18)(cross-posted from Point of Law).
- Google beats Perfect 10 in Ninth Circuit appeal over copyright suit over thumbnail images. (Earlier: Feb. 06, Jul. 05, Nov. 04.) [LA Times; WaPo; Bashman; Perfect 10 v. Amazon (9th Cir. 2007)]
- Judge thinks better over Brent Coon’s attempt to intimidate local press through subpoenas. Earlier: Apr. 24. [WSJ Law Blog]
- US Supreme Court throws out punitive damages ruling in Buell-Wilson case, lets rest of decision stand. Earlier: Jan. 4 and links therein. Beck and Herrmann also discussed the case in March in the context of a larger discussion of the appropriateness of issuing punitive damages against a company that relied on government safety standards in good faith. [LA Times; AP].
- Big LA Times piece on the still-pending Extreme Makeover suit, where a family seeks to hold ABC responsible for an intra-household dispute over the spoils of a reality show. Earlier: Mar. 4, Aug. 12, 2005. [LA Times]
- KFC may have won on trans-fats litigation, as David reported May 3, but they capitulate to Jerry Brown’s pursuit of Lockyer’s equally bogus acrylamide suit over the naturally-occurring chemical in potatoes (Oct. 05, Aug. 05, Aug. 05, May 05, Apr. 04, etc.). KFC will pay a nuisance settlement of $341,000 and will add a meaningless warning in California stores. (Tim Reiterman, “KFC to tell customers of chemical in potatoes”, LA Times Apr. 25).
- McDonald’s sued over hot coffee. Again. One of the allegations is that McDonald’s failed to secure the lid, which is a legitimate negligence suit, but there’s also a bogus “failure to warn me that coffee is hot” count. [Southeast Texas Record; and a Southeast Texas Record op-ed that plainly read Overlawyered on the subject]
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown is overwhelmingly favored to become the state’s next attorney general, but don’t assume he’ll necessarily follow in the footsteps of Bill Lockyer:
“I’m going to take a very practical, common-sense approach as attorney general,” Brown said in a recent interview. “I’m someone who’s acutely aware of the fact that we as a state have added 25,000 laws since I was governor. I think we ought to give people some space to live their lives.” …
And don’t assume that he will agree completely with Lockyer’s decisions. Asked about the global-warming lawsuit, Brown said he’d have to “take a good look at it.”
“I think there’s an issue of causation there,” he said, adding that California needs to consider automakers’ “imploding” financial situation. …
“He was the first politician to turn litigation into a press release [as California Secretary of State, elected in 1970],” said Hiestand, the former Brown aide [Fred Hiestand, now prominent in California litigation-reform circles].
In post-Watergate 1974, the reform-minded Brown was swept into the governor’s office. One year later, Brown and the Legislature were besieged with pleas from doctors facing skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs. Brown called a special session that would eventually lead to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, California’s law capping pain and suffering awards at $250,000.
Hiestand remembers philosophical discussions with Brown on the best ways to compensate malpractice victims. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1964, Brown clerked for state Supreme Court Justice Mathew Tobriner, a contemporary of tort expert and future chief justice Roger Traynor. Brown, Hiestand said, recalled Traynor’s critical dissent in a 1962 case where a woman injured on a bus was awarded $134,000 for non-economic damages. Traynor said such awards were troubling because they are tied to subjective amounts of pain and suffering.
“At one point Jerry looks at me and says, ‘Money is a false god. If you’re in pain, you should turn to religion, sex or drugs,'” Hiestand said.
(Cheryl Miller, “Former Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown Runs for State Attorney General”, The Recorder/Law.com, Oct. 16)(cross-posted from Point of Law’s Featured Discussion on the election, which is still going great guns).
It’s “kooky” and “trivializes a serious problem”, editorializes the Los Angeles Times: “California shouldn’t be in the business of filing meritless suits to gain leverage in other cases“. “It’s not his job to make law through frivolous lawsuits,” opines the San Jose Mercury News (via Wilson). It’s “reprehensible… little more than a political stunt,” adds the Orange County Register. Veteran political columnist Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee terms the suit “Lockyer’s bid to become the champion of cheesiness“. One who does like the suit, curiously enough: an environmental adviser to Gov. Schwarzenegger named Terry Tamminen. And the San Francisco Chronicle investigates: what do state lawmakers drive? More here, here and here (cross-posted from Point of Law).
In a first-of-its-kind suit, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is demanding damages from automakers for the impact of global warming. “Because, after all, the California attorney general is the one who should be deciding national policy on the global warming controversy,” notes Ted at Point of Law. Even accepting Lockyer’s contentions at face value, autos sold in California contribute less than 1 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions (David Shepherdson, “Calif. sues over auto emissions”, Detroit News, Sept. 21).
Is Lockyer making it up as he goes along with the new suit, legal-theory-wise? It would seem so. His theory that autos constitute a nuisance have never been enacted as law even by the California legislature, yet he’s asserting it retroactively to punish past behavior by Detroit and Japan worldwide. His views clash strongly with those held by elected officials in many other states, which is one reason our system gives the U.S. Congress, rather than the California attorney general, the right to set national environmental policy. His notion that internal combustion engines might not be unlawful in themselves, but constitute nuisance in this case because manufacturers could be doing more to minimize their impact, makes as much sense (which is to say, no sense whatever) as if he sued California’s own drivers on the grounds that they contribute to the problem by taking unnecessary trips.
Prof. Bainbridge has quite a bit more to say about the abuse of power involved in using this type of litigation as an end run around the political branches of government which are the proper locus of authority on policy matters of this sort (Sept. 21).
Reader Earl Wertheimer writes: “I would rather see the automakers simply agree to stop selling cars in California. Let them walk & bicycle for a while. This would promote better fitness and also reduce future obesity lawsuits.”
Reader Loren Siebert writes: “I wonder if the discovery process will include how many motor vehicles the state of CA has purchased and operates.” And Nick Fenton at DTT Buzz has suggestions for more litigation (Sept. 20).
More: Lockyer “is unlikely to win” the suit, according to legal experts interviewed, especially since “a similar case brought by California and other states against utilities companies in 2004 failed in the courts”. “Even with a small chance of success, environmental advocates say the new legal action is useful and necessary”, one reason being “to pressure carmakers”. “I hope that automakers realise this will be the first of a series of lawsuits,” says Jim Marston of Environmental Defense. (Roxanne Khamsi, “California faces uphill battle on car emissions”, New Scientist, Sept. 22). EconBrowser (Sept. 24):
…the key question in my mind is not the extent to which reducing greenhouse emissions from vehicles may be a good idea, but rather whether, under previously existing U.S. law, it has been lawful to manufacture cars that emit carbon dioxide. I submit that it has, and if a judge somewhere now creatively determines that a company can be punished for such perfectly lawful behavior, then I fear that America is no longer a nation ruled by law, but rather ruled at the whim of whatever those currently wielding power happen to think might be a good idea.
Yet more: Brian Doherty, Reason “Hit and Run”, Sept. 21.
Three years ago California’s notorious Trevor Law Group was found to be mass-mailing demand letters to small businesses alleging violations of the state’s ultra-liberal s. 17200 unfair business practices act, then settling the complaints for cash. A major furor ensued, and the state bar and Attorney General Bill Lockyer made gestures toward reforming the law to prevent law firms from running “shakedown” practices. But did it work? Mike Cernovich notices that a law firm has placed an employment ad on Craigslist seeking “additional counsel” to handle an “expanding workload”. What kind of workload? Well, it’s “primarily in the practice of wage and hour law inclusive of class actions … almost all [of our] cases are settled and are rarely tried.”
That business about settling rather than trying “almost all cases” got Cernovich’s suspicions up, and then he “saw something that made my jaw drop:”
In assessing the nature of the work and return on time spent it is helpful to keep in mind that the burden of proof is always on the employer to establish that he has paid the correct wages. The law requires that the employer keep accurate and timely maintained records that show hours worked and amounts paid. Failure to maintain such records is almost always at the heart of the case ….
Furthermore the employer will be liable for our legal fees if he is unable to defense the case. These two elements [the inability to prove us wrong and threat of attorneys fees] provide our clients with extraordinary leverage to resolve the matter.
Cernovich reads this as amounting to: “we sue employers knowing that it’s unlikely they’ll be able to produce records that will prove us wrong. … In other words, let’s just sue someone, hope he can’t produce any employment records to contradict us, threaten him with attorneys fees, and then settle the case post haste.” Or is he being too suspicious? (Mar. 8). (Updated/corrected shortly after posting to fix a mistake on my part about who placed the Craigslist ad; also retitled next morning.)
Bill Lockyer has thrown the power of the state of California and its taxpayers behind the litigation lobby’s attempt to extract money from just about every food manufacturer over the alleged dangers of acrylamide. We’ve been covering these suits for years: see Apr. 6, 2004 and links therein. Of course, if every single food product and commercial building structure contains a Proposition 65 warning, the net effect is to make the real important warnings, like those on cigarette packages, less meaningful, rather than to warn people of the uncertain link between french fries and minimally elevated risks of cancer, a risk dwarfed in health effects by the difference between french fries with and without trans-fats. The press coverage universally makes no attempt to parse the studies on the subject. The fact that the press-hungry and politically ambitious Lockyer filed his suit relatively quietly on a Friday—and sued only national fast-food chains, without including two popular local chains that also serve french fries—for Saturday news coverage suggests that he’s doing this as a favor for some trial-lawyer buddies and is hoping to avoid public embarrassment. This is a good opportunity for the blogosphere to prove its stuff. And will all the Democrats who claim to be part of the “reality-based community” and correctly speak out against Republican junk science like “intelligent design” raise their voices when it’s a Democrat using junk science for corporation-bashing, or is science only to be used when it can embarrass Bush? We shall see. (Tim Reiterman, “Carcinogen Warning Sought for Fries, Chips”, LA Times, Aug. 27). Other Lockyer coverage.