Feds arrested Florida attorney Stuart Finkelstein on charges of mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, false declarations to a court, and obstruction of justice following a scheme in which they say he filed more than 300 lawsuits on behalf of two purported clients who had attempted to visit public establishments but were frustrated by lack of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. In reality, prosecutors say, the two individuals “neither retained nor authorized Finkelstein to file ADA lawsuits on their behalf” and “never attempted to visit” the public establishments. The lawyer allegedly “made numerous false representations” both to the businesses and to the courts, “obstructed official judicial proceedings, and then settled these fake lawsuits in order to collect approximately $930,000 in attorney’s fees.” The suits were filed in New York and Florida. [U.S. Department of Justice press release; Jay Weaver, Miami Herald]
Home-stealing through the filing of false deeds and other legal documents is a problem that goes way back in Philadelphia. And it’s still happening. Ask Tonya Bell, who went to City Hall three years ago and found that she had been declared dead, and that someone else had taken possession of an empty house she owned. [Craig R. McCoy, Philadelphia Daily News]
In what is believed to be the highest such award in the United Kingdom, MS Globenet Ltd. has been ordered to pay £70,000 [US $93,000] after being “found to be involved in 20 cases related to a major fraud ring, operating primarily in north London between 2012 and 2014.” An insurance company brought suit for “tort of deceit” and a judge found that the alleged accidents were fraudulent and that a director of the accident services firm “had been knowingly complicit in the fraud.” [Neil Rose, Litigation Futures; Insurance Times]
Just published: my new Storify on the ignoble demise of what had been billed as one of the world’s biggest human rights lawsuits, the so-called Lago Agrio case against Chevron over pollution in Ecuador. We’ve covered it for years, before and after the tainted $18 billion verdict obtained by attorney Steven Donziger, and the Storify feature links to many of our key posts. Big-name environmental groups like the Sierra Club, 350.org, and EarthJustice promoted Donziger’s case long after they had reason to know better.
The Eleventh Circuit’s opinion in U.S. v. Takhalov will be one of the more talked of the season. Amid colorful references galore, the court “tossed the convictions of nightclub operators accused of using enticing ‘bar girls’ to lure drunken customers to pay tens of thousands of dollars for overpriced drinks.” Judge Thupar begins: “The wire-fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1343 does not enact as federal law the Ninth Commandment given to Moses on Sinai. For § 1343 forbids only schemes to defraud, not schemes to do other wicked things, e.g., schemes to lie, trick, or otherwise deceive.” Plus footnote 9, which says that a particular inference “hardly requires Holmesian feats of deduction (Sherlock or Oliver Wendell: either Holmes will do here.)” [ABA Journal, Miami Herald, Daily Business Review]
California’s unique Unruh Act provides automatic bounty entitlements (often $4,000, plus attorney’s fees) to successful discrimination complainants without having to show any actual injury from their treatment. For many years this has led to a distinctive cottage industry of ADA filing mills that mass-generate accessibility complaints against California businesses to settle for cash, often based on minor instances of noncompliance in facilities open to the public. Correcting the bad incentives created by the Unruh Act appears to be politically out of bounds, but now, at least, following a multi-year push from the business community, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed SB 269, which lays out two escape paths from liability for smaller businesses: by hiring a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) they can get 120 days to fix any violations, and by providing a 15-day grace period before legal penalty for small business to fix the most minor violations, typically involving signage and surface display. [KXTV, NorCal Record, L.A. Daily News] “The number one complaint [in 2015]? Non-compliant loading zones. Number two? Problems with parking lot signage.” [Capital Public Radio]
Meanwhile, in Fresno, some disabled plaintiffs are now suing the lawyers who solicited their involvement in mass ADA filings, saying they broke promises, behaved deceptively, and kept nearly all the proceeds for themselves. [KFSN]:
One of the places the Moores sued is a donut shop in Reedley and one of the problems was with the signage.
The shop had a disabled parking only sign up, but it didn’t have the half that states “Minimum Fine $250” and without that part, this is a violation.
What the Moores may not have known is Doughnuts To Go is managed by Lee Ky, who suffers from cerebral palsy.
“Here I am all my life in a wheelchair and I get around in the community just fine,” Ky explained.
Ky says she never had any accessibility problems at her own store, but she made some updates after she was sued for violations and settled with the Moore Law Firm to make the lawsuit go away.
So when an Action News reporter showed her the video of Ronald Moore, the man who sued her, lifting his wheelchair into his SUV, then walking up to the driver’s seat, she was pretty upset.
“I wish I could be him sometimes,” Ky said. “I wish I could just get up and then walking and all the sudden becoming in the wheelchair. It looks bad.”
A witness stepped forward with a story to tell about changed numbers on a check stub, and what followed was something of a “wow” moment as modern litigation goes [Erik Larson and Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg]:
Dramatic revelations are unusual in U.S. litigation these days, when reams of evidence and testimony are reviewed before the trial begins, making Kleven’s appearance on the scene a rare “Perry Mason” moment, said Leonard Niehoff, a law professor at the University of Michigan.
“The typical television scenario where a witness comes out of nowhere in a trial doesn’t actually happen much.”
- “How to write an overlawyered email, in 4 easy steps!” [Inspired Law Blog]
- Fifth Circuit upholds conviction of Texas lawyer Marc Rosenthal over pattern of fraud including but not limited to suborning of false witness testimony;
- Emoticons/emojis begin arriving in court as evidence, a federal judge in Michigan having already been “asked to rule on the meaning of ‘:-P.'” [Amanda Hess, Slate]
- Disabled access regulations as hobble-thy-competitor method: “AT&T says T-Mobile and Sprint Wi-Fi calling violates disability rules” [ArsTechnica]
- From back in 2012, but missed: a law professor’s book assails fine print in contracts, and Scott Greenfield responds;
- So strange how many expert witnesses say they have no idea how much they make [Brendan Kenny, Lawyerist]
- Get those troops out of my house: “A symposium on the oft-neglected Third Amendment” [Ilya Somin]
Horror story in Queens points up flaws of the city’s deed-transfer system, and also of its pro-tenant housing court regime: “After Darrell Beatty failed to appear in August, a judge approved an eviction, but it was stayed last week when Beatty claimed he had health problems.” [New York Post]