Fort Worth Star-Telegram consumer columnist Dave Lieber, 50, had an argument with his son in the restaurant parking lot the morning of Aug. 13, told him to walk home, but doubled back to return minutes later after thinking better of it. Police later arrested him on two felony charges of child abandonment. Watauga, a suburb of Fort Worth, has crime rates well below the national average. (Alex Branch, “S-T Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber arrested”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 27; Dave Lieber, “How parents can learn from serious mistakes”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 15; Chuck Lindell, “Father’s arrest ignites debate over child abandonment”, Austin American-Statesman, Aug. 28).
We described the Dallas attorney as poster boy for legal ethics for his astoundingly brazen conduct in the scandal over an asbestos testimony-coaching memo. Now his name is hitting front pages on the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter affair:
Dallas lawyer Fred Baron told The Dallas Morning News today that he paid relocation and housing expenses for the woman that former presidential candidate John Edwards has confessed to having an affair with.
Mr. Baron, who was chairman of Mr. Edwards’ presidential campaign finance committee, said he paid money for Rielle Hunter to move from North Carolina to another location. …
He said Mr. Edwards did not know about the arrangement.
(Gromer Jeffers Jr., “Dallas lawyer Fred Baron paid for Edwards’ mistress to relocate”, Dallas Morning News, Aug. 8).
More coverage of Edwards’s (partial or otherwise) confession: ABC News, AP, Memeorandum, Marc Ambinder, Ben Smith/Politico, News & Observer, Just One Minute, Shaun Mullen/Moderate Voice. Readers will remember that Ted had the story very, very early, before it was much noticed even on the blogs (more). As for Edwards’s own credibility, Mickey Kaus, whose news judgment in pursuing the matter now stands vindicated, has this to say: “There is now one player in this scandal with far less credibility than the National Enquirer, after all.”
“I decided independently to help two friends and former colleagues rebuild their lives when harassment by supermarket tabloids made it impossible for them to conduct a normal life,” Baron, a Dallas trial lawyer said in a statement, Rob Christensen reports.
“John Edwards was not aware that assistance was provided to anyone involved in this matter,” Baron said. “I did it of my own voilition and without the knowledge, instruction, or suggestion of John Edwards or anyone else. The assistance was offered and accepted without condition.”
York points out:
Hunter and Young, the recipients of Baron’s generosity, were not high-ranking officials in the Edwards campaign. How Baron got to know them and how he decided to fund their move to California, and why he decided to do so without Edwards’ knowledge, might be the subject of more questions as the Edwards matter goes forward.
Blogger Gina Cobb hopes the window of Baron’s generosity is still open:
I am touched and moved by your generosity. I especially like the part about “The assistance was offered and accepted without condition.” Accordingly, I would like to request the same generosity from you. Henceforward, I would like you to rent me an enormous house and pay my living expenses in perpetuity. I can assure you that the assistance you offer will be accepted without condition.
And see Ted’s follow-up post.
We hear frequently that the medical profession doesn’t do enough to police its own. Cases like that of Lawrence Poliner might explain why. In 1997, in response to complaints by nurses at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, and the allegation by a doctor that Poliner had performed an angioplasty on the wrong artery, the hospital asked Poliner to stop work while they investigated. These limited privileges lasted 29 days, followed by a unanimous decision to suspend, a five-month suspension from echocardiography privileges, and then reinstated Poliner five months later subject to conditions that he consult with other cardiologists.
For this, Poliner sued for defamation and under federal antitrust law, alleging that other cardiologists were trying to dominate the market and prevent his competition. The five-month suspension had federal immunity under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11101 et seq. (just one of many federal tort reforms that promote safety), but the trial court held that the 29-day limited-privileges created a cause of action that should go to a jury. Poliner lost $10,000 in income over that time “but was awarded more than $90 million in defamation damages, nearly all for mental anguish and injury to career. The jury also awarded $110 million in punitive damages”–despite the fact that Poliner would have to prove damages were caused by the allegedly unprivileged temporary limitation rather than by the five-month suspension. We covered the initial $366 million verdict in 2004, the outraged medical blogosphere reaction, and the remittitur to a still ludicrous $22.5 million in 2006.
There was an auto accident in Dallas; plaintiffs sued Volkswagen in Marshall, Texas, in the notoriously plaintiff-friendly Eastern District of Texas, which has a hugely abnormal number of product liability cases—17% of all federal automobile product liability lawsuits in the United States. Let us quote from In re Volkswagen of America, Inc., 506 F.3d 376 (5th Cir.2007), earlier discussed on POL Nov. 27 and Feb. 23:
Volkswagen moved to transfer venue to the Dallas Division of the Northern District of Texas (“Dallas Division”). Volkswagen asserted that a transfer was warranted as (1) the Volkswagen Golf was purchased in Dallas County, Texas; (2) the accident occurred on a freeway in Dallas, Texas; (3) Dallas residents witnessed the accident; (4) Dallas police and paramedics responded and took action; (5) a Dallas doctor performed the autopsy; (6) the third-party defendant lives in Dallas County, Texas; (7) none of the plaintiffs live in the Marshall Division; (8) no known party or significant non-party witness lives in the Marshall Division; and (9) none of the facts giving rise to this suit occurred in the Marshall Division.
The district court refused to transfer to the Northern District, VW sought mandamus, and got it on the second try, with the Fifth Circuit ordering transfer. (See also John Council, “5th Circuit Restricts Trial Courts’ Discretion in Venue Motions”, Texas Lawyer, Nov. 5; John Council, “5th Circuit Case Could Reduce Product Liability Caseload in Texas’ Eastern District”, Texas Lawyer, Aug. 7).
In February, however, the Fifth Circuit vacated the decision, and granted en banc rehearing. Argument is Thursday in New Orleans, and the decision will determine whether the Fifth Circuit will tolerate forum shopping in the federal courts. (Michelle Massey, “Appeals court scheduled to hear arguments over forum shopping”, SE Texas Record, May 20). The case is of special importance to the patent bar, given the fact that Marshall, Texas, has become the unlikely capital of United States patent litigation. Blog coverage: PatentlyO, Prior Art.
En banc briefs in 07-40058, In re Volkswagen AG:
- Petitioners (Volkswagen)
- Respondents (plaintiffs)
- Product Liability Advisory Council, amicus on behalf of petitioners
- American Intellectual Property Law Association, amicus on behalf of petitioners
- Railroads, amicus on behalf of petitioners
- Law professors, amicus on behalf of respondents
- Trial lawyers, amicus on behalf of respondents
Department of Strangely Shifting Academic Positions: In December 2007, law professor Georgene Vairo wrote a LexisNexis Expert Commentary on the Volkswagen case explaining its consistency with Supreme Court precedents, and writing
The Fifth Circuit is not alone in permitting the use of mandamus in limited circumstances. For example, in Lemon v. Druffel, 253 F.2d 680 (6th Cir. 1958), a case decided shortly after Congress codified § 1404(a), the Sixth Circuit ruled that mandamus was an appropriate remedy to test a district court’s discretion on a motion to transfer.
In April 2008, she signed on to a brief taking precisely the opposite position, which does not cite Lemon. Curious.
Anna from Estonia mak[es] it a point to show visiting friends a sight they could never see in the old country. They laugh, they point, they whip out cameras and take pictures. Of the Everglades? No. Of Mount Rushmore or Lady Liberty? No.
Anna said they take pictures of the idiot signs. These she said, crack her friends up. “Caution: Coffee is hot.” Apparently, elsewhere in the world, you don’t need a sign to know this.
- Telemarketers working for lawyers and chiropractors “line up every day” at police and public records offices to buy car-crash records [Dallas Morning News]
- Nice work if you can get it: Bernardine Dohrn’s terrorist-to-lawprof career track [Kass, Chapman @ Chicago Tribune, Ed Morrissey/HotAir, PoL, Horowitz/DtN, Daily Northwestern/FrontPage, Malkin, Power Line]
- Mystery of embattled Florida debt-relief law firm Hess Kennedy (Mar. 6) deepens as whereabouts of lawyer Edward Kennedy are questioned [ABA Journal]
- Criticism mounts of Calif. AG Jerry Brown’s lawsuits using global warming theories to force higher-density development [Stewart/LA Weekly, Walters/SacBee, via Kaus, scroll]
- Kevin Pho (KevinMD.com) on defensive medicine [USA Today]
- Colorado firm says lawsuit’s “settlement mill” allegations are concocted “by a competitor who doesn’t like (Azar’s) advertising.” [Colorado Springs Gazette]
- Hey, you can rig up a disposable camera to give you a little shock; it might also give you a D felony record under school zero tolerance [WTNH via Greenfield]
- One good thing about those anonymous snitchlines for domestic abuse, you don’t have to worry about bogus calls or anything like that [Colorado Springs Gazette on Texas polygamist raid backstory]
- Lawyers get $2 million in fees in Netflix class action [WSJ law blog; earlier]
- Supreme Court refuses cert on that very curious $112 million (originally $1 billion) land-contamination verdict from Louisiana [Exxon v. Grefer, Dow Jones/Fortune; CalPunitives link roundup; earlier; more background at Laura Hart/Louisiana Law Blog]
- Cow-pie bingo event falls victim to liability fears [three years ago on Overlawyered]
It started as a joke, but Bozeman, Mont. attorney Christopher Gillette is going through with the ambitious aquarium installation, whose saltwater inhabitants will include venomous fish as well as sharks. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle; AP/El Paso Times] In the 1980s the now well-known law firm of Bickel & Brewer adopted the snake exhibit at the Dallas Zoo. (Mark Donald, “Rambo Justice”, Dallas Observer, Mar. 19, 1998).
Ethnic discrimination by proxy? “‘I believe controlling the color you paint your house is basically profiling the Hispanic community,’ said Elizabeth Villafranca, whose family owns a Mexican restaurant in [Dallas, Texas suburb] Farmers Branch. ‘We all know who paints their homes tropical colors.'” (Anabelle Garay, “Hispanics see red over proposal”, AP/Bryan-College Station Eagle, Oct. 10). More: Virginia Postrel weighs in.
How pathetic is the State Bar of Texas when it comes to protecting clients from rogue lawyers? This pathetic:
Dallas attorney Bruce Patton has a clean disciplinary record, according to the State Bar’s Web site, which provides profiles of the state’s 80,000 or more practicing attorneys. But consider this before you hire him to draft your will: Patton is in state prison after being convicted of a felony two years ago….
The Texas Legislature and Supreme Court, which share a role in establishing ethics rules for attorneys, have made it so that the public stays in the dark about thousands of lawyers accused of misconduct. Bar confidentiality rules ensure that many sanctions are private and that lawyers accused of felonies can continue practicing. The Bar doesn’t require attorneys to report their criminal record or malpractice suits.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s disturbing investigation goes into considerable detail, and mentions a couple of cases that will be familiar to readers of this site: “San Antonio attorney Ted Roberts, charged with stealing $100,000 from his wife’s lovers, was recently convicted, two years after being indicted. He faces a five-year sentence. The Bar didn’t suspend him until June and is now recommending disbarment.” And: “The firm of John O’Quinn, one of the state’s wealthiest personal-injury lawyers, was ordered by an arbitration panel this summer to pay $35 million to former clients who say he overbilled them for expenses, but no mention of that order is on the Bar’s Web site.” (Yamil Berard, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 19; “Panel seeks changes in Bar’s disciplinary system for lawyers”, Aug. 19). More: GruntDoc wonders whether doctors can expect a similar concern for confidentiality.