William K. Mattar, 43, of Buffalo “has built a substantial auto-injury practice through the estimated $2 million he spends each year on ads produced by CJ Advertising in Nashville, Tenn.” Now three lawyers who worked for Mattar have quit in acrimonious circumstances, providing a look inside the firm’s workings. Joseph Bergen said Mattar had admitted never having tried a case and had never taken a client deposition in the nine years Bergen had worked with the firm. As business poured in from TV viewers, the lawyers say, Mattar stopped using his staff lawyers to screen the cases for likely merit, instead devolving that task on a call center in Tennessee. Meanwhile, the staff lawyers’ caseloads swelled to more than 200 cases apiece, along with which came “increased pressure from Mattar to settle a minimum of two to three cases a week each,” whether or not the lawyers felt the cases were in an appropriate posture to settle. The three are setting up their own personal-injury firm, and Mattar depicts them as disgruntled employees who are misleading clients in hopes of taking away business from him. (Michael Beebe, “Mattar’s 3 trial lawyers quit”, Buffalo News, Oct. 25; “Mattar says lawyers conspired to steal clients”, Nov. 1; Martha Neil, “Former PI Colleagues Now Battling in Buffalo”, ABA Journal, Nov. 1). For some reason the Buffalo-Rochester area has generated a steady stream of colorful stories about law firms with saturation TV-ad budgets, sometimes coupled with factory-line methods; see our earlier coverage of Cellino & Barnes/The Barnes Firm and the now-retired Jim (“The Hammer”) Shapiro, of “hand you their severed heads” fame, who conceded in a deposition that he had never tried a case.
- She wore a wire: defense attorney says administrative assistant to one of the three lawyers in Kentucky fen-phen scandal worked as FBI mole, circumventing attorney-client privilege [AP, Courier-Journal, Lexington Herald-Leader, ABA Journal]
- Suing a lawyer because his deposition questions inflicted emotional distress? No way we’re going to open those floodgates, says court [NJLJ]
- Counsel Financial Services LLC, which stakes injury lawyers pending their paydays, says it’s “the largest provider of attorney loans in the United States and the only Law Firm Financing company endorsed by the AAJ (formerly ATLA)”; its friendly public face is a retired N.Y. judge while its founder is attorney Joseph DiNardo, suspended from practice in 2000 “after pleading guilty to filing a false federal tax return” and whose own lend-to-litigants operation, Plaintiff Support Services, shares an office suite with Counsel [Buffalo News] The firm’s current listing of executives includes no mention of DiNardo, though a Jul. 19 GoogleCached version has him listed as President;
- Patent litigation over cardiac stents criticized as “a horrendous waste of money” [N.Y. Times]
- More on the “pro bono road to riches”, this time from a California tenant case [Greg May, Cal Blog of Appeal]
- Not a new problem, but still one worth worrying about: what lawyers can do with charitable trusts when no one’s looking over their shoulder [N.Y. Times via ABA Journal]
- Has it suddenly turned legal to stage massive disruptions of rush-hour traffic, or are serial-lawbreaking cyclists “Critical Mass” just considered above the law? [Kersten @ Star-Tribune]
- “Look whose head is on a plate now”: no tears shed for fallen Lerach by attorney who fought him in the celebrated Fischel case [ChicTrib, San Diego U-T]
- “Jena Six” mythos obscures graver injustice to black defendants, namely criminal system’s imposition of long sentences for nonviolent offenses [Stuart Taylor, Jr. @ National Journal — will rotate off site]
- Economist David Henderson on restaurant smoking bans [Econ Journal Watch, PDF, via Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”]
- Technical note: we learned from reader Christian Southwick that our roundups were displaying poorly on Internet Explorer (Ted and I use other browsers) and we found a way to fix. So, IE users, please drop us a line when you encounter problems — we may not hear about them otherwise.
“I’m not going to look at the evidence submitted to me. I want this plaintiff to get money. Tell each of your clients to pay up and make a contribution if they want to get out of this lawsuit.”—unnamed Buffalo Supreme Court judge, according to Brendan P. Cunningham op-ed in the June 22 Buffalo News.
- Represented by repeat Overlawyered mentionees Cellino & Barnes/The Barnes Firm, this injured upstate New Yorker got a settlement of $35,000 which worked out after expenses to — are you ready? — $6.60 [Buffalo News]
- Not yet a laughingstock: AMA backs off idea of labeling video-game addiction [Wired News, L.A.Times/CinciPost, HealthDay/WilmNJ]
- Restaurant critics fear losing their physical anonymity, which means a Bala Cynwyd eatery has a sword to hold over the Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer it’s suing [PhilaWeekly] (More: AP/CNN)
- Dad of the year? Father who didn’t have much contact with 30-year-old son during his life shows up to claim half his $2.9 million 9/11 compensation award [NYDN, NYLJ, PDF brief courtesy Taranto/WSJ]
- Fie on goodness: Geoffrey Fieger engages Harvard’s Dershowitz to try to quash federal grand jury probe, and he’s still battling Michigan judges too [DetNews]
- In suburban D.C. middle school, high-fiving could mean detention under no-touching rule [Washington Post, AP/CNN]
- Law firm whistleblowers? Ex-employees allege billing fraud in tobacco suit by high-flying Kansas City, Mo. trial lawyer [Legal NewsLine]
- U.K. government panel bans egg ad as not encouraging healthy eating [Times Online, Guardian, Telegraph]
- Lawprof is keen on expanding tort law to open door for more suits against schools over kids’ bullying [Childs]
- 1,001 ways to self-publicize: one is to become a “trial groupie” [Elefant]
- Guess what? This site just turned eight years old [isn’t it cool]
“A state senator from Brooklyn said on Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation that would ban people from using an MP3 player, cell phone, Blackberry or any other electronic device while crossing the street in New York City and Buffalo.” (“Ban Proposed On Cell Phones, iPods In Crosswalk”, WNBC, Feb. 7). Comment: TechDirt, Global Nerdy, Bainbridge, Wired blog. A Blog for All rounds up links. Commenter Mike Knowland at Dvorak.org writes, “It won’t be enforced, but when someone gets hit by a car while breaking this law, the driver won’t be 100% at fault anymore.”
- DOJ subpoenas of online-gambling firms spark UK outrage (Times Online)
- “Don’ts” for lawyers: don’t supplement your criminal-defense practice by running escort service on the side [NY Law Journal]
- Maternity-clothing retailer tripped up on pregnancy discrimination claim [Lenard]
- Filling out a Quicken-software will for an elderly client deemed “unauthorized practice of law” in South Carolina [McCullagh, Giacalone]
- Champerty ‘n’ maintenance update: New York courts allow suspended lawyer Ross Cellino [Jul. 15, 2005] to resume practice [Business First of Buffalo]
- Worried about long-dormant restitution or repatriation claims that might arise to put a cloud on your art holdings? Buy art-title insurance [Forbes pay archive]
- Snatching whole milk from schoolkids not such a great idea, maybe [Musil]
- Yes, let’s stop slamming lawyers for representing unpopular clients — and let’s start being consistent about it [Ted “no relation” Olson, Katyal via Adler]
- Pfizer sued on theory its frisky Viagra ads encourage spread of sexually transmitted diseases [AP/WaPo](complaint courtesy Slate)
- After his experiment in splitting up his blogs, Steve Bainbridge has reunited them again [ProfessorBainbridge.com]
- Remove Child Before Folding author Bob Dorigo Jones interviewed about wacky warnings (see Jan. 6, Jan. 12, etc.) [Illinois Review].
- Note: one item originally posted here [on air-show crash] removed as duplicative of one of Ted’s earlier.
Mary Brzyski worked for Skidmore Inc., in East Aurora, NY, where she drove a company car that was leased from Chrysler. In 2003, Brzyski loaned the car to her 19-year-old son, Andrew, who rear-ended Jason Lapp’s car, severely injuring him. Longtime readers know what happened next. Irrational New York law (Jul. 14, 2003, Apr. 2, 2004, Feb. 2, 2005) holds the lessor liable, even when, as here, they are three transactions away and never anticipated that a 19-year-old would be driving the car. Skidmore and Chrysler have settled for $8.2 million. (“$8.2 million settlement accepted in crash suit”, Buffalo News, Dec. 15). Congress has stepped in to the breach (Aug. 4, 2005), at least until the litigation lobby undoes that reform.
The Barnes Firm, formerly Cellino & Barnes, is a powerhouse in the personal-injury business in upstate New York, where it is a ubiquitous advertiser. According to the Buffalo News, it’s built one of the largest caseloads of Vioxx lawsuits in the nation by hawking its star attorney, Brian A. Goldstein, who in television ads
described how he was uniquely qualified to represent Vioxx users. Not only was he a personal injury lawyer, he told viewers, he was a former physician and board-certified surgeon….
The lawsuits accuse the drug’s maker, Merck & Co., with failing to tell patients the whole truth about Vioxx.
Goldstein, though, appears guilty of the same charge about his medical background. Georgia’s Composite State Board of Medical Examiners revoked Goldstein’s license to practice medicine on Jan. 10, 1991.
Goldstein was found guilty of providing Georgia licensing authorities with misleading and incomplete information about his education, according to records obtained by The Buffalo News. The licensing board found that Goldstein:
• Attended college and medical school at the same time in the Dominican Republic.
• Graduated from medical school less than three years after he graduated from high school.
• Received credit for courses he had not taken, had not completed or failed.
• Said he attended Tulane University when he had not, falsified his earlier training and submitted a false letter of recommendation for a residency at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center.
The hearing officer in Georgia not only recommended revocation but also said the decision should be published “as a public reprimand for [Goldstein] for his conduct.”
But none of that information was mentioned in the Vioxx ads, or in Goldstein’s biography on The Barnes Firm Web site.
The Buffalo News investigation includes various defenses of his conduct offered by Goldstein, including the following:
He also said Georgia authorities failed to consider the fact he had received an undergraduate degree from Empire State College.
The News confirmed that degree from the college, which grants degrees based on life experience as well as academic studies. But the degree was granted in 1988, three years after Georgia filed charges against him.
The newspaper asks medical ethicist Arthur Caplan about Goldstein’s “selective use of parts of his medical background to recruit legal clients”. Caplan’s response: “I think it’s sleazy”. (Michael Beebe, “Did Barnes Firm lawyer tell the whole truth?”, Buffalo News, Jan. 22). Carolyn Elefant comments at My Shingle (Jan. 22), and the incident also stirs memories for blogger Gina at Together Again (Jan. 23). The law firm of Cellino & Barnes has figured in these pages before: see Jul. 15, 2005.
In Rochester there’s a food fight going on in court over a dubious local culinary specialty, the “Garbage Plate”, which consists per AP of “a heaping platter of hot dogs or hamburger, home fries, macaroni salad and baked beans smothered in a meaty hot sauce”. Nick Tahou’s restaurant has held a registered trademark to the Depression-era dish since 1992 and may fear, like the promoter of the breakfast health food in the Saki story, losing its market supremacy once rivals introduce yet more unpalatable-sounding concoctions. Copycat platters sold by other Rochester restaurants include Messy Plate, Sloppy Plate, Dog Dish and Plat du Refuse. (Ben Dobbin, “In Rochester food fight, ‘Garbage Plate’ takes on ‘Plat du Refuse'”, AP/Buffalo News, Apr. 9).
Antoinette Millard told New Yorkers she was a Saudi princess, and ran up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, when she was actually Lisa Walker, a divorced investment banker from Buffalo who lived in a one-bedroom apartment on 89th Street and Third Avenue. (Photo of “Antoinette” at a January society party.) She got caught when she tried to make a fake insurance claim for stolen jewelry eleven days after purchasing the policy. From Rikers Island, she’s countersuing American Express for daring to seek to recover the $951,000 she charged without paying, claiming they “should have known that [she] was acting impulsively and irrationally” because of “anorexia, depression, panic attacks, [and] head tumors” and shouldn’t have been given credit in the first place. She seeks $2 million. (Samuel Maull, AP, Nov. 24; Dareh Gregorian, “The Gall-$tar”, New York Post, Nov. 25).