Here’s your $3 million bonus, young man, and whatever you do, don’t tell the clients how much the case settled for (Jim Hannah, “Fen-phen lawyer details bonus”, Cincinnati Enquirer, May 15; earlier)(via Slater, WSJ law blog).
We’ve extensively covered the scandal over charges that attorneys William Gallion, Shirley Allen Cunningham Jr. and Melbourne Mills Jr. siphoned off $65 million or so in settlement money due claimants in the diet drug litigation, using the proceeds to buy, among other things, the Preakness-winning race horse Curlin. Ted notes the latest developments over at Point of Law, as does Carter Wood. (Wolfson/Courier-Journal, WSJ law blog).
More from WSJ law blog: Mills’ lawyer tells jury his client “was hospitalized for an ‘alcoholic seizure’ a month after the case was settled, didn’t take part in any court hearings and was too drunk at the time to be responsible,” while prosecutor says “that Mills ‘sat back and laughed’ when the other two described a plan to overcharge the clients.”
Philadelphia federal district court judge Harvey Bartle III has awarded $567.67 million in fees to plaintiff’s lawyers in the gigantic fen-phen litigation, which has lasted nine years. Judge Bartel accepted 70 firms’ claim to have spent 578,048 hours on the suit (Alison Frankel, American Lawyer, Apr. 10). Ted, at Point of Law, notes that the sum does not include large contingent fees obtained on behalf of claimants who opted out of the group settlement.
- Ninth Circuit, Kozinski, J., rules 8-3 that Roommates.com can be found to have violated fair housing law by asking users to sort themselves according to their wish to room with males or other protected groups; the court distinguished the Craigslist cases [L.A. Times, Volokh, Drum]
- Class-action claim: Apple says its 20-inch iMac displays millions of colors but the true number is a mere 262,144, the others being simulated [WaPo]
- U.K.: compulsive gambler loses $2 million suit against his bookmakers, who are awarded hefty costs under loser-pays rule [BBC first, second, third, fourth stories]
- Pittsburgh couple sue Google saying its Street Views invades their privacy by including pics of their house [The Smoking Gun via WSJ law blog]
- U.S. labor unions keep going to International Labour Organization trying to get current federal ground rules on union organizing declared in violation of international law [PoL]
- Illinois Supreme Court reverses $2 million jury award to woman who sued her fiance’s parents for not warning her he had AIDS [Chicago Tribune]
- Italian family “preparing to sue the previous owners of their house for not telling them it was haunted”; perhaps most famous such case was in Nyack, N.Y. [Ananova, Cleverly]
- Per their hired expert, Kentucky lawyers charged with fen-phen settlement fraud “relied heavily on the advice of famed trial lawyer Stan Chesley in the handling of” the $200 million deal [Lexington Herald-Leader]
- Actor Hal Holbrook of Mark Twain fame doesn’t think much of those local anti-tobacco ordinances that ban smoking on stage even when needed for dramatic effect [Bruce Ramsey, Seattle Times]
- Six U.S. cities so far have been caught “shortening the amber cycles below what is allowed by law on intersections equipped with cameras meant to catch red-light runners.” [Left Lane via Virtuous Republic and Asymmetrical Information]
In Sunday’s Times reporter Anthony DePalma takes a much-needed look at attorney Paul Napoli and his Napoli Bern law firm, which is now representing thousands of plaintiffs claiming injury from 9/11 dust inhalation and before that made its name in the fen-phen litigation. Among the controversies that have trailed it to the present day from that affair: charges that it divvied up settlements in a way favorable to its own fee interests, and that it used unreliable “echo mill” expert reports from echocardiologists attesting injury to fen-phen claimants. Prof. Lester Brickman, friend of this site, is quoted extensively. See our extensive earlier coverage at Overlawyered: Dec. 16, 2002, Sept. 21, 2003, etc. (echo mills); Dec. 28, 2001, Feb. 14, 2005, and Mar. 29, 2007 (settlement practices); Feb. 25, 2008 (broad net cast in 9/11 suits)(cross-posted from Point of Law).
Another bunch of things not to do if you’re a member of the legal profession.
- Don’t get caught pursuing forged fen-phen claims. (Robert Arledge, Vicksburg, Mississippi, sentenced to 6.5 years, the only lawyer to date to be sentenced in a much larger fen-phen scandal.) [ABA Journal]
- Don’t try to dissuade a witness from testifying at a deposition. (Cleary Gottlieb, which said it would appeal the judge’s order of sanctions.) [WSJ Law Blog]
- Don’t inflate your GPA and include fake awards on your resume. (Gregory Haun, DC, recommended for suspension, resigned his six-digit BigLaw associate job.) [Legal Times]
- Don’t end your jury service by casting a vote to break a deadlock and then sign a statement drafted by the plaintiffs’ attorney asking for a new trial saying that you did so so you can return to work. (California bar has recommended disbarment for Francis Fahy.) [ABA Journal; Recorder ($); Law.com ($)]
- Don’t steal money from your clients by forging their signatures on insurance company releases to get their settlement money. (Richard Boder, New York, caught as part of a larger scandal involving the illegal use of paid runners to bribe hospital employees about auto accident injuries, sentenced to a year in prison.) [NY Law Journal]
- Don’t read Maxim in the courtroom. (Todd Paris, held in contempt by North Carolina judge.) [WSJ Law Blog]
- Don’t have an affair with a judge you’re practicing in front of, or vice versa. (Federal Way, WA, Municipal Court judge Colleen Hartl resigned after bragging about an affair with public defender Sean Cecil, who still has 5 Avvo stars for professional conduct, but has been the subject of a formal complaint to the bar.) [AP/Post-Intelligencer; Federal Way News; Lat]
(Earlier: Nov. 5, etc.)
- Easterbrook: “One who misuses litigation to obtain money to which he is not entitled is hardly in a position to insist that the court now proceed to address his legitimate claims, if any there are…. Plaintiffs have behaved like a pack of weasels and can’t expect any part of their tale be believed.” [Ridge Chrysler v. Daimler Chrysler via Decision of the Day]
- Retail stores and their lawyers find sending scare letters with implausible threats of litigation against accused shoplifters mildly profitable. [WSJ]
- Kentucky exploring ways to reform mass-tort litigation in wake of fen-phen scandal. [Mass Tort Prof; Torts Prof; AP/Herald-Dispatch; earlier: Frank @ American]
- After Posner opinion, expert should be looking for other lines of work. [Kirkendall; Emerald Investments v. Allmerica Financial Life Insurance & Annuity]
- Judge reduces jury verdict in Premarin & Prempro case to “only” $58 million. And I still haven’t seen anyone explain why it makes sense for a judge to decide damages awards were “the result of passion and prejudice,” but uphold a liability finding from the same impassioned and prejudiced jury. Wyeth will appeal. [W$J via Burch; AP/Business Week]
- Judge lets lawyers get to private MySpace and Facebook postings. [OnPoint; also Feb. 19]
- Nanny staters’ implausible case for regulating salt. [Sara Wexler @ American; earlier: Nov. 2002]
- Doctor: usually it’s cheaper to pay than to go to court. [GNIF BrainBlogger]
- Trial lawyers in Colorado move to eviscerate non-economic damages cap in malpractice cases [Rocky Mountain News]
- Bonin: don’t regulate free speech on the Internet in the name of “campaign finance” [Philadelphia Inquirer]
- “Executives face greater risks—but investors are no safer.” [City Journal]
- Professors discuss adverse ripple effects from law school affirmative action without mentioning affirmative action. Paging Richard Sander. Note also the absence of “disparate impact” from the discussion. [PrawfsBlawg; Blackprof]
- ATL commenters debate my American piece on Edwards. [Above the Law]
- Protection of ugly garage views? Garrison Keillor vs. neighbors in St. Paul, Minn. [NYTimes]
- If you’re a lawyer who practices before the south Florida bench, it’s not a recommended career move to use a blog to call one of its judges an “evil, unfair witch” [WSJ Law Blog]
- Nonprofit sleep-off center that takes in drunks sued after rescuing man who then succeeds in laying his hands on more liquor and drinking himself to death [Anchorage Daily News]
- New Starbucks offering of “skinny” drinks “could easily be considered a form of size discrimination” and lead to litigation, complains ticked-off barista [StarbucksGossip]
- Appearance of impartiality? West Virginia high court judge cavorted on Riviera with coal exec whose big case was pending before his court [Liptak/NYT] Update: Now recused, per WV Record.
- Retired drug enforcement officers sue Universal Studios, saying they were defamed as a group by “American Gangster” [MSNBC]
- Not much likelihood of confusion: shirtmaker Lacoste can’t keep two dentists in Cheltenham, England from using toothy crocodile as logo for their practice [Reuters]
- People seized randomly off street for compulsory jury duty in St. Johnsbury, Vt. and Greeley, Colo. [AP/Findlaw via KipEsquire, Greeley Tribune]
- Federal judge orders attorney Robert Arledge of Vicksburg, Miss. to pay $5.8 million in restitution after conviction for organizing bogus fen-phen claims [Clarion-Ledger; earlier]
- Canada: abuser of crystal meth successfully sues her drug dealer [BBC]
- Animal rights group tries to shut down “happy cows” ad campaign [three years ago on Overlawyered]
Yesterday’s guilty plea by Booneville, Miss. attorney Joseph (“Joey”) Langston in the attempted improper influencing of a Mississippi state judge would be major news even if it had nothing to do with the state’s most famous attorney, Richard (“Dickie”) Scruggs. That’s because Langston and his Langston Law Firm have themselves for years been important players on the national mass tort scene. The firm’s own website, along with search engines, can furnish some details:
- Per the firm’s website, it has represented thousands of persons claiming injury from pharmaceuticals, including fen-phen (Pondimin/Redux), Baycol, Rezulin, Lotronex, Propulsid and Vioxx. It was heavily involved in the actions against Bausch & Lomb over ReNu contact lens solution (and its former #2 Timothy Balducci, the first to plead in the widening round of corruption scandals, won appointment to the steering committee of that litigation.)
- The Langston firm has represented thousands of asbestos claimants and says it has “significant” experience in the emerging field of manganese welding-rod litigation, also a specialty of the Scruggs law firm. The website AsbestosCrisis.com includes the Langston law firm in its listing of about thirty law firms deemed notable players on the plaintiff’s side of asbestos litigation (“Tiny firm founded by Joe Ray Langston powerhouse in Mississippi with 50-year roots in state political circles.”)
- Langston appeared to play a sensitive insider role for Scruggs in the largest and most lucrative legal settlement in history, the tobacco-Medicaid deal between state attorneys general and cigarette companies, the ethical squalor of which was a central topic of my 2003 book The Rule of Lawyers; as mentioned previously, when Dickie Scruggs routed mysterious and extremely large tobacco payments to P.L. Blake, he used attorney Langston as intermediary.
- Langston has repeatedly taken a high profile in the same fields of litigation as has Scruggs, including not only suits over asbestos, tobacco and welding rods but also two of Scruggs’s “signature” campaigns, those against HMOs/managed care companies and not-for-profit hospitals.
- Though the firm is better known for its plaintiff’s-side work, the Langston firm’s “national practice” page asserts: “The Langston Law Firm virtually defined the role of ‘Resolution Counsel’ in the modern era of jurisprudence. Prominent domestic and foreign companies facing massive litigation have turned to The Langston Law Firm to create winning strategies to save their companies.”
Many commenters (as at David Rossmiller’s) have noted that Langston appears to have drawn an unusually favorable plea deal from federal investigators, who are granting him remarkably broad immunity as to uncharged offenses, and not even stipulating that he give up all ill-gotten funds. Presumably this signals that they expect Langston’s cooperation to be unusually extensive and valuable. One hopes that this cooperation will include the full and frank disclosure of any earlier corruption and misconduct there may have been in all the past litigation in which Langston has been involved. In particular, tobacco, asbestos, and pharmaceutical litigation have all raised suspicions in the past because of instances in which forum-shopping lawyers took lawsuits of national significance to relatively obscure local courts — quite often in Mississippi — and proceeded to get unusually favorable results which paved the way for the changing hands of very large sums in settlement nationally. Were all these results achieved honestly?
Incidentally, and because it may confuse those researching the matter on the web, it should be noted that there is a second prominent Mississippi plaintiff’s lawyer who bears the same surname but has not been involved in the recent Scruggs scandals, that being Joey’s brother Shane Langston, formerly of Jackson-based Langston, Sweet & Freese. Shane Langston, whose name turned up often in connection with the “hot spots” of pharmaceutical litigation of Southwest Mississippi, has more recently been in the news over client complaints regarding alleged mishandling of expenses related to the Kentucky fen-phen litigation scandals. [Family relationship between the two confirmed 1/16 on the strength of emails from several readers.] (& welcome WSJ Law Blog readers)
[First of a two-part post. The second part is here.]
- Client’s suit against Houston tort lawyer George Fleming alleges that cost of echocardiograms done on other prospective clients was deducted as expenses from her fen-phen settlement [Texas Lawyer]
- Preparing to administer bar exam, New York Board of Law Examiners isn’t taking any chances, will require hopefuls to sign liability waivers [ABA Journal]
- Thanks to Steven Erickson for guestblogging last week, check out his blogging elsewhere [Crime & Consequences, e.g.]
- “Freedom of speech” regarded as Yankee concept at Canadian tribunal? [Steyn @ NRO Corner; reactions]
- Court rules Dan Rather suit against CBS can go to discovery [NYMag; earlier here, here]
- Served seventeen years in prison on conviction for murdering his parents, till doubts on his guilt grew too loud to ignore [Martin Tankleff case]
- Orin Kerr and commenters discuss Gomez v. Pueblo County, the recent case where inmate sued jail for (among other things) making it too easy for him to escape [Volokh]
- New at Point of Law: Cleveland’s suit against subprime lending is even worse than Baltimore’s; Massachusetts takes our advice and adopts payee notification; law firm websites often promote medical misinformation; lawyer for skier suing 8-year-old boy wants court to stop family from talking to the press; Ted rounds up developments in Vioxx litigation once and then again; guess where you’ll find a handsome statue of Adam Smith; and much more;
- Good news for “resourceful cuckolds” as courts let stand $750,000 alienation of affection award to wronged Mississippi husband [The Line Is Here; ABCNews.com]
- Kimball County, Nebraska cops don’t know whether that $69,040 in cash they seized from a car is going to be traceable to drug traffickers, but plan to keep it in any case [Omaha World-Herald via The Line Is Here]
- Hunter falls out of tree, and Geoffrey Fieger finds someone for him to sue [seven years ago on Overlawyered]