Posts Tagged ‘churches’

Update: Canadian residential schools litigation

“Lawyers who have been representing survivors of Canada’s residential school system are expected to get the biggest payment ever recorded for a Canadian class action case.” The federal government will pay about C$80 million in fees, of which half will go to the Regina-based Merchant Law Group and half to a consortium of other lawyers. (“Lawyers set to be paid $80M in school abuse deal”, CTV, May 8; “School abuse deal includes $80M for lawyers”, CBC, May 8). The fees are part of a $2 billion deal intended to resolve portions of the litigation over the federally-sponsored, church-run Indian schools, which were originally accused of permitting the infliction of physical and sexual abuse on some of their students; later the litigation expanded to include charges of “cultural deprivation” and alienation on behalf of thousands of Native Americans who attended the schools, which were geared toward assimilation into Canadian culture (FAQ from CBC on settlement). More: Aug. 23-24, 2000.

Church-aided evacuation plans

Realizing that there were no good plans in place for evacuating the 100,000+ sick or impoverished residents of New Orleans in the event of a hurricane, the Red Cross and a local poverty-action group had been developing a plan to “enlist churches in a vast, decentralized effort to make space for the poor and the infirm in church members’ cars when they evacuate,” according to Bruce Nolan in the July 24 Times-Picayune (reprinted by Brad DeLong). However, Operation Brother’s Keeper had only managed to enlist four churches as participants as of this July. Logistical difficulties posed by the idea were one challenge, but according to Nolan’s reporting another factor was also at work:

although the Archdiocese of New Orleans has endorsed the project in principle, it doesn’t want its 142 parishes to participate until insurance problems have been solved with new legislation that reduces liability risks, Wilkins said.

One-way fee shifting and religious litigation

Under the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Award Act of 1976, plaintiffs collect fees if they win even in part, but pay no fees if they lose. That puts a bludgeon in the hands of objectors in church-state lawsuits (as well as in many other kinds of lawsuits characterized as being about civil rights). Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana has introduced the Public Expression of Religion Act, a bill that would attempt to level the playing field as regards claims of religion-related civil rights violations by public officials. It would do so, however, by eliminating fee entitlements entirely; that would indeed deprive long-shot suits of much of their in terrorem effect, but at the cost of undercutting valid claims brought under the act. Why not take a look at moving toward full two-way fee shifting instead? (Christopher Levenick, “High Noon at Sunrise Rock”, WSJ/, May 27).

Church air called hazardous

Just when you thought it was safe to run inside and pray: “Air inside churches may be a bigger health risk than that beside major roads, research suggests.” Candles and incense are deemed likely culprits for the prevailing high levels of polycyclic hydrocarbons and particulates, the latter of which were found at 12 to 20 times permissible EU levels. (“Church air is ‘threat to health'”, BBC, Nov. 20). Libertarian Samizdata has a rather drastic suggestion for what to do about the new findings. Another possibility, of course, is that the official EU hazard limits are set at a super-cautious level that has little to do with the amount of risk most people would consider it reasonable to bear. More on the candle menace: Jun. 19, 2001 (EPA advisory); Nov. 4-5, 2002 (Calif. “right-to-know” suits against candle makers).

“Scientology critic ordered to pay church”

“A former member and longtime critic of the Church of Scientology has been ordered by a Marin County judge to pay the church $500,000 for speaking out against the controversial religious movement.” Scientology defector Gerald Armstrong, in a 1986 settlement of earlier litigation with the church, had agreed to “maintain strict confidentiality and silence with respect to his experiences with the Church of Scientology” with a penalty of $50,000 for every offending utterance. “The church maintains that Armstrong has violated the agreement at least 201 times and owes it just over $10 million.” Armstrong’s “lawyer noted that his client had declared bankruptcy to avoid paying past damages won by Scientology, and Armstrong still vows to never pay a penny to the church.” (Don Lattin, San Francisco Chronicle, Apr. 13). See also Mar. 25-26, 2002; May 3, 2000.

ATLA: Avoid jurors with “strong religious beliefs” reports that an American Trial Lawyers Association publication, “ATLA’s Litigating Tort Cases,” an $800 manual advertised as “the inside track to establishing and maintaining a successful tort practice,” recommends quizzing jurors on their religious beliefs during the “voir dire” procedure meant to exclude biased jurors.

The chapter classifies certain individuals as “personal responsibility” jurors. “The personal responsibility jurors tend to espouse traditional family values.” Often, “these jurors have strong religious beliefs.” Because “personal responsibility jurors” hold values such as “People should be self-reliant, responsible, and self-disciplined. When people act irresponsibly and are not self-disciplined, there are consequences. People must be accountable for their conduct,” they may not be sufficiently sympathetic to the plaintiffs.

Thus, “the only solution is to identify these jurors during voir dire and exclude them from the jury.”

A spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State objects: “‘Certainly a good lawyer will try to ferret out any evidence of prejudice, whether it’s religious prejudice or racial prejudice, prejudice against women, whatever, that’s legitimate,’ [Rob] Boston said. ‘But, for a lawyer to simply assume that certain religious beliefs will dictate certain behaviors is naive and I think it does a disservice to our legal system.'” (Jeff Johnson, “Trial Lawyers Question Jurors’ ‘Strong Religious Beliefs'”,, Dec. 18).

Alas, the article uncomfortably and unnecessarily singles out the Judaism of the author of the book chapter in question. But the identification of trial lawyers’ strategy in such bald terms provides interesting insight.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers are fond of accusing tort reformers of attempting to remove certain decisions from “the people”. But under the current tort system, jurors in many cases are not so much “the people” as a hand-picked group selected to favor a certain result. When one combines this biased sampling with random variation, and then combine that with the possibility of jackpot damages awards, it takes only a small minority of “the people” to create a jury pool that creates dramatic shifts in wealth to lawyers from the rest of society.

EU court: church website violated privacy law

In a widely awaited decision, the European Court of Justice has ruled that a Swedish woman can be fined about $500 for identifying and publishing personal details about fellow church volunteers on her personal web site in breach of “data protection” privacy laws. Bodil Lindqvist of Alseda parish had published online “some full names, telephone numbers and references to hobbies and jobs held by her colleagues. In relation to one lady, Lindqvist also revealed that the volunteer had injured her foot and was working part-time on medical grounds.” A Swedish court found that she had violated data-privacy law in posting the page and the European Court agreed. (“Identifying people on-line violates Data Protection laws, says European Court”, Out-Law (UK), Nov. 7). We originally reported on the case Sept. 20, 2000.

Church bulletin smackdown

Milwaukee paper reports on the unpleasant two-year litigation that resulted after two employees of Liturgical Publications Inc., the country’s largest publisher of church bulletins and newsletters, departed to form a start-up competitor. The case ended with a jury’s rejection of allegations that the former employees stole trade secrets; a judge had earlier ruled a noncompete agreement unenforceable (David Doege, “Bulletin publisher leaves fold, beats lawsuit”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 11; Lisa Sink, “Most bulletin publisher’s claims against ex-workers dismissed”, Dec. 30, 2002) (via Employer’s Lawyer (Nov. 11), which says the story provides “a good picture of what I call the soft dollar cost of litigation”)

Menace of church incense

Just when you thought it was safe to approach the altar: “An Irish Government minister has warned that burning incense in churches could be harmful to the altar boys and girls who help Roman Catholic priests celebrate mass. Jim McDade, who is a former family doctor, said the children were at risk because they inhaled the carcinogenic smoke produced when incense is burnt close by.” (James Helm, “Irish minister links incense to cancer”, BBC, Aug. 22).