Judge Joseph Bamberger rubber-stamped a Kentucky fen-phen settlement agreement where plaintiffs’ attorneys cheated class members out of tens of millions of dollars. In the process, his former law partner was paid millions by the settlement, which he used to buy a Florida house with Bamberger, and Bamberger himself received a $5000/month sinecure. At trial of the three lead attorneys yesterday, jurors were shown a videotape where one of the plaintiffs questioned the judge on how low her settlement was and the validity of her release; the videotape shows Bamberger browbeating the plaintiff, but then awarding her an additional $100,000 and a $1200/month life annuity on the condition that she cease talking about the settlement and her objections to it. (Jim Hannah, “Judge dressed down victim”, Cincinnati Enquirer, May 24) (h/t R.U.). For some reason yet undisclosed by prosecutors, Bamberger is on the witness stand rather than in the dock with Gallion, Mills, and Cunningham.
- Polar bears on parade: “Lawsuits are not the best way to force the public into solving planet-size problems such as climate change.” [Christian Science Monitor editorial]
- Jury convicts private investigator Anthony Pellicano, trial of entertainment lawyer Terry Christiansen set for July [Variety; earlier]
- Knockoff sneakers differed from Adidas original in having two or four stripes instead of three, didn’t save Payless Shoes from getting hit with $304 million verdict [American Lawyer]
- Following up on our discussion of municipal tree liability: Michigan high court OKs homeowner class action over sewer line damage from city trees [AP/MLive]
- Attorney Franklin Azar, of Colorado TV-ad fame, says jury’s verdict ordering him to pay a former client $145,000 was really a “big victory” for him [ABA Journal]
- Annals of tolling-for-infancy: “Dog bite 10 years ago subject of civil suit” [MC Record]
- Feds indict Missouri woman for cruel MySpace hoax that drove victim to suicide: Orin Kerr finds legal grounds weak [@ Volokh]
- “I blame R. Kelly for Sept. 11”: some ways potential jurors managed to get off singer’s high-profile Chicago trial [Tribune; h/t reader A.K.]
- Update: “click fraud” class actions filed in Texarkana against online ad providers have all now settled [SE Texas Record; earlier]
- Judge orders dad to stay on top of his daughter’s education, then jails him for 180 days when she fails to get her general equivalency diploma [WCPO, Cincinnati; update, father released]
- Lawyers still soliciting for AOL volunteer class actions [Colossus of Rhodey; earlier]
- Raising ticket revenue seems more important to NYC authorities than actually recovering stolen cars [Arnold Diaz/MyFoxNY video via Coyote]
- Subpoena your Facebook page? They just might [Beck/Herrmann]
- Rhode Island nightclub fire deep pockets, cont’d: concert sponsor Clear Channel agrees to pay Station victims $22 million, adding to other big settlements [ProJo; earlier]
- Manhattan federal judge says “madness” of hard-fought commercial suit “presents a cautionary tale about the potential for advocates to obscure the issues and impose needless burdens on busy courts” [NYLJ]
- Wooing Edwards and his voters? Hillary and Obama both tacking left on economics [Reuters/WaPo, WSJ, Chapman/Reason, WaPo editorial]
- Sad: if you tell your employer that you’re away for 144 days on jury duty, you actually need to be, like, away on jury duty [ABA Journal]
- New at Point of Law: Florida “three-strikes” keeps the doctor away; court dismisses alien-hiring RICO suit against Tyson (and more); Novak on telecom FISA immunity; fortunes in asbestos law; Ted on Avandia and Vioxx litigation; new Levy/Mellor book nominates Supreme Court’s twelve worst decisions; and much more;
- U.K.: “Lawyers forced to repay millions taken from sick miners’ compensation” [Times Online]
- Outside law firm defends Seattle against police-misconduct claims: is critics’ beef that they bill a lot, or that they’re pretty good at beating suits? [Post-Intelligencer]
- Cincinnati NAACP is campaigning against red-light cameras [Enquirer]
- Omit a peripheral defendant, get sued for legal malpractice [six years ago on Overlawyered]
As a number of commentators have noted (e.g. Brett Kittredge @ Majority in Mississippi, Alan Lange @ YallPolitics), Booneville attorney Joey Langston, who just entered a guilty plea on charges of judicial corruption, is someone accustomed to throwing the weight of his pocketbook around in Mississippi politics. In particular, he has been among the biggest donors to incumbent Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, even as Hood employed Langston and partner Tim Balducci on contract to handle the controversial MCI tax bill negotiations, with their resulting $14 million legal fees payable to Langston et al, and the potentially very lucrative Zyprexa litigation.
Equally interesting in some ways, however, are Langston’s activities on the national political scene. To take just one example: this CampaignMoney.com listing tabulates the top “527” contributions to a group called the Democratic Attorneys General Association, whose political and electoral mission is implied by its name. In the listing, two donors are tied for first place, with contributions of $100,000 apiece. One is the large Cincinnati law firm of Waite Schneider Bayless Chesley, associated with one of the country’s best-known plaintiff’s lawyers, Stanley Chesley. The other $100,000 contribution is from Joey Langston.
In presidential politics, Langston has recently been a repeat donor to the quixotic (and, since Iowa, defunct) campaign of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), a lawmaker whose high degree of seniority on the Senate Judiciary Committee makes him important to ambitious lawyers whether or not he ever attains the White House. When the Scruggs scandal was still in its early stages, the WSJ law blog (Dec. 10) noted that two key figures in the affair, Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson, were strong backers of the Biden campaign: “Their bet on Biden was that he wouldn’t win the presidency but would become Secretary of State under a Hillary Clinton administration, according to two people familiar with their thinking.” The Journal reprinted (PDF) an invitation to an Aug. 10, 2007 fundraising reception for Biden at the Oxford (Miss.) University Club, sent out above the names of six hosts, three of whom (Scruggs, Balducci and Patterson) were soon indicted. Scruggs, of course, is better known for his support of Mrs. Clinton, a fundraiser for whom he had to cancel after the scandal broke.
Campaign-contributions databases such as OpenSecrets.org and NewsMeat indicate that Langston has been a prolific and generous donor to incumbent and aspiring Senators across the country, mostly Democrats (Murray, Cantwell, Daschle, Nelson, etc.) but also including a number of Republicans who might be perceived as swing votes or reachable, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Me.), and Arlen Specter (Penn.)
Incidentally, some critics have intimated that Langston’s generous support to DAGA, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, should actually be interpreted as a roundabout gift to Hood, who was the beneficiary of interestingly timed largesse from DAGA. It does not appear, however, that any of the parties involved — Langston, Hood or DAGA — have acknowledged any connection between the timing of the donations (& welcome Michelle Malkin, David Rossmiller, YallPolitics readers).
[Second of a two-part post. The first part is here.]
Middle linebacker Odell Thurman of the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Bucs cornerback Torrie Cox, both suspended for repeat violations of the National Football League’s substance abuse policy, filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination on the basis of being regarded as disabled, with alcoholism being the disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been construed to prohibit discrimination against rehabilitated alcoholics, but not to protect current substance abuse. However, the line distinguishing behavior regarded as current from that regarded as past can be hazy. (Len Pasquarelli, “Bengals’ Thurman, Bucs’ Cox file discrimination claims against NFL”, ESPN.com, Aug. 17). Paul Secunda discusses at Workplace Law Prof (Aug. 23).
“The court finds that there is a serious risk that the funds will be moved offshore and that with these funds at their disposal, the defendants will flee to a country with which the United States has no extradition treaty or otherwise disappear,” U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman wrote in the Friday order sending Shirley Cunningham Jr., William Gallion, and Melbourne Mills Jr. to jail without bond until the January 7 trial date. (Jim Hannah, “Fen-phen lawyers are jailed”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 11). We have lots of coverage of the Kentucky fen-phen lawyers, who have been found in a civil case, to have misappropriated $62 million of settlement funds by overcharging on attorneys’ fees and other diversions. Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley, who has not been criminally indicted, is also civilly liable on part of his $20 million fee for helping to negotiate the settlement, with the scope of liability yet to be determined; trial has been delayed while the criminal trial is pending.
- Curlin, the horse owned by fen-phen fraudsters Gallion and Cunningham, won the Preakness by a head. Curlin’s trainer is apparently ensconced in his own scandal, having served a six-month suspension for illegally drugging horses. (Andrew Beyer, “Making a Run for It”, Washington Post, May 20; Jennie Rees, “Curlin camp a crowded place”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 20).
- Stan Chesley did not even show up to the court-ordered May 16 mediation session, allegedly forcing a rescheduling until May 23. (Chesley’s attorney says he was in contact with his client at the hearing.) Plaintiffs have asked for sanctions. (Paul Long, “Mediation over lawyer fees fails”, Cincinnati Post, May 18).
- Barbara Bonar gets supporting testimony in her claims against Stan Chesley, but loses bench trial in case she brought over questionable settlement over Catholic church sex abuse. Bonar, the next president of the Kentucky Bar, will appeal. In the meantime, she faces trumped up ethics charges for representing class member opt-out settlements. (Andrew Wolfson, “Covington lawyer loses fee dispute case”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 12).
- Angela Ford, who is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of Kentucky fen-phen victims ripped off by their attorneys against their co-counsel, Stan Chesley, is now also facing what seems to me retaliatory political pressure; a Hamilton County, Ohio, judge, apparently unaware of deposition commissions, is complaining that she subpoenaed an Ohio witness without being licensed to practice law in that state. For some reason, a Kentucky judge, Stanley Billingsley, is testifying on behalf of Chesley. An American Home Products witness contradicted defendants’ claims that they “set aside” some settlement money for future Kentucky claimants (who, under the U.S. Supreme Court Amchem precedent, could not be bound by the settlement). And the parties are in mediation tomorrow and Thursday, which, judging by Chesley’s attorney’s complaints about press coverage, implies a confidential settlement is near. Next court hearing is May 31. (Shelly Whitehead, “Fen-phen suit heads to mediation”, Cincinnati Post, Apr. 24; Beth Musgrave and Jim Warren, “Lawyers meet Wednesday to try to reach deal on fen-phen millions”, Lexington Herald-Leader, May 14).
- Angela Ford herself has a website, which is not surprising, but it does include a remarkable resource of publicly-available court documents related to the Abbott v. Chesley case.
Prominent Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley said he wanted to file the Diocese of Covington priest-abuse case in Boone County because “we have a real friendly judge there,” a lawyer testified this week.
“He winked at me” and said “we need to file this in Boone County,” testified Covington lawyer Barbara Bonar, who is suing Chesley in a dispute over attorneys fees in the $84.5 million case.
“He said we already have hired a trial consultant, and he is real friendly with the judge,” Bonar said, describing a conversation she claimed to have had with Chesley in January 2003. “And he winked at me again.”
Chesley denies the allegations, but the fact remains that the Boone Circuit judge, Joseph Bamberger, of Kentucky fen-phen scandal fame, made an unprecedented ruling certifying a class action over priest abuse that forced the diocese into a $84.5 million settlement given that the church could not hope to defend itself against anonymous unnamed class members.
Bonar, who was briefly co-counsel for the class in the priest-abuse case, testified that Chesley’s partner Robert Steinberg told her in August 2003 that the Chesley firm had to turn down an early $3 million settlement offer from the diocese because it already had paid $400,000 in expenses to Modlin as a fee “to get the class certified.”
The diocese had sought Bamberger’s recusal. Modlin was also hired as a $2 million “trial consultant” in the fen-phen case, and went on to buy a house in Florida with Judge Bamberger. Chesley denies paying Modlin $400,000, and Bonar has her own motivation to fib, as she’s suing for a share of the Chesley fees from the class action, and claims she left the case only because of her fear of being involved in a fraud on the court. Bonar has already earned $2 million in fees out of the $4.7 million she settled for in individual cases outside the class action. Somewhere in here, a crime has been committed, whether it be bribery or perjury, but there’s work for a grand jury to be done. (Andrew Wolfson, “Lawyers clash in dispute over fees”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 10; see also Jeanne Houck, “Claims tangle diocese lawsuit”, Kentucky Post, Nov. 26, 2003).
Update: the Kentucky Bar Association is investigating. (Paul A. Long, “Bar: Probe attorneys’ conduct”, Cincinnati Post, May 10.)