Posts Tagged ‘governors’

Gregoire the gregarious

Attorney General Christine Gregoire of Washington, a leading figure in brokering the 1998 tobacco settlement that ensured cartel-based profits for big tobacco companies and gigantic fees for the lawyers who sued them, is now in a close race for governor of the state. Very helpfully, she’s getting political contributions (via the Democratic Governors Association) from plaintiff’s-side lawyers such as Richard Scruggs, Joseph Rice and Steve Berman who were made exceedingly rich by the settlement, and who’ve given more than $1 million to the DGA in the space of a month. And another grateful contributor to the DGA is the lawyer who represented … Philip Morris. Isn’t it great when people can get along? (Ralph Thomas and Andrew Garber, “Out-of-state donors feed Gregoire fund”, Seattle Times, Oct. 28). For more, see Oct. 11, 2004, and Jul. 17 and Sept. 13-14, 2000.

Calif.’s mandatory harassment training

A new law will require mid-size and larger employers in California to put their supervisors through interactive training aimed at preventing sexual harassment. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who may have a hard time standing up to feminist demands given his own record on the issue, signed the bill Sept. 29. (Jacqueline McManus, “New law for harassment awareness”, Monterey County Herald, Oct. 8; Peter Nicholas, “Business Sees an Ally in Governor”, L.A. Times/KTLA, Oct. 18). “The law defines a covered ’employer’ as one that employs 50 or more persons, which includes temporary service employees and independent contractors. The law does not specify that the 50 employees must be within California. That means that an employer with 50 total employees may be covered by the law, even if just a few workers are in California.” (“New California Law Mandates Anti-Harassment Prevention Training for Supervisors”, Jackson Lewis, Oct. 1) (via George’s Employment Blawg). When Connecticut lawmakers enacted the first such state law twelve years ago, I took a dim view.

Punitive-sharing: Arnie caves

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill bestowing on the state a 75 percent share of punitive damage awards — but only after the details of the measure had been radically revamped in a manner highly unwelcome to critics of the litigation system. Negotiators agreed to a “lawyers eat first” principle, absent in the original proposal, which would guarantee private counsel a 25 percent share of the state’s take; they also stripped away a provision, much sought by defendants, which would have barred multiple punitive damages over a single course of conduct. Finally, they applied complicated time restrictions to the new law which makes it likely that it will cover relatively few actual cases unless later extended (“Governor Signs Bill Adopting Court Budget Reform, Giving State Share of Punitive Damages”, Metropolitan News-Enterprise, Aug. 18; Dan Walters, “Details torpedo Schwarzenegger’s budget gimmick on civil lawsuits”, Sacramento Bee, Sept. 8). George Wallace at Declarations and Exclusions has more. The state trial lawyers’ association, which styles itself Consumer Attorneys of California, declared itself “gratified” by the governor’s turnaround on the issue. (“Schwarzenegger’s Punitive Award Fund Part of Budget”, Bloomberg, Jul. 29, no longer online). More: Victor Schwartz, Mark Behrens and Cary Silverman have a paper on the subject from Washington Legal Foundation (Sept. 3, PDF). And Southern California Law Blog covered it Sept. 4.

Update: smog fee lawyers snag $23.7 million

Latest development in the affair that brought unwelcome scrutiny to former Calif. governor Gray Davis and his ties to the Litigation Lobby (see Dec. 5, 2000 and Jun. 22-24, 2001): “Court-ordered arbitration secretly delivered a $23.7 million payday to attorneys who successfully battled the state over smog fees wrongfully charged to 1.7 million motorists. The award,” down from an original $88.5 million, “represents as much as arbiters could give the team of attorneys led by a high-powered San Diego law firm, under limits imposed by a Court of Appeal ruling in 2002.” State officials had unsuccessfully sought to keep the earlier award under wraps, and attorney General Bill Lockyer was not exactly at pains to publicize this one: “The California Attorney General’s office, after rebuffing repeated inquiries into the status of the arbitration, this week confirmed that a ruling had been issued but refused to release any more information, citing attorney-client privilege.” The Schwarzenegger administration, however, responded promptly to an open-records request. (Michael Gardner, “Lawyers get $23.7 million in smog-fee fight”, San Diego Union-Tribune, Aug. 20).

Imagine if it had been about the money

“[Attorney Allen] Lowy said that he was not fazed by the suggestion that [New Jersey Gov. James] McGreevey might resign. He said he and Mr. [Golan] Cipel were not seeking a financial settlement, ‘We weren’t concerned with the money,’ Mr. Lowy said.” (David Kocieniewski, “A Governor’s Downfall, in 20 Wrenching Days”, New York Times, Aug. 15). “Sources in McGreevey’s administration said Saturday that Cipel originally demanded $50 million [to not press a harassment complaint] but the figure dropped to $5 million as negotiations progressed.” (“Man in N.J. Gov. Case Says He Is Straight”, AP/, Aug. 15). More: New Jersey Law Journal, Sept. 8.

Alabama has a new chief justice

Alabama governor Bob Riley this morning appointed Drayton Nabers to serve the two years remaining in the term of Roy Moore. (Moore, you may recall, was removed from the bench by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary for failing to comply with a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.)

Nabers, a graduate of Princeton and the Yale Law School, clerked for Justice Hugo Black (1965-66) and practiced law in Birmingham for a number of years before joining Protective Life Corporation in 1979. He retired as chairman of the firm’s board of directors in 2003 and then joined the Riley administration as the state budget director. Nabers’s stature is such that a former president of the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association is quoted in the story linked above as saying, “”I believe he’s such a man of integrity that he will not put his personal background in the way of fairly dealing with each issue before him.”

Nabers has not decided whether he will run for re-election in 2006.

John O’Quinn for Texas governor?

The Houston-based mass tort specialist, who has long played a prominent role in these columns for his exploits in asbestos, tobacco, silicone implants and most recently fen-phen (Apr. 28, Feb. 26 and many more), is now being talked of by activists as a potential Democratic candidate for governor of the Lone Star State. (W. Gardner Selby, “Democrats appear to be in no rush to challenge Perry for governorship”, San Antonio Express-News, Jun. 15). One factor helpful to him: last fall (see, Oct. 25) Texas Democrats elected as their chairman San Marcos attorney Charles Soechting, who happens to practice at none other than the law firm of O’Quinn, Laminack & Pirtle.

Schwarzenegger punitive damage plan

My op-ed on the subject appears in today’s Wall Street Journal. (Walter Olson, “More Punitives to the People!”, Jun. 2)($$). The California governor’s proposal to have the state take 75 percent of punitive awards has gotten a more favorable reception from the left/liberal side of the blogosphere than some might have expected; see Nathan Newman (calling it “the right idea”)(May 17), Atrios (“not a bad idea”) May 17, plaintiff’s attorney Dwight Meredith (more)(“I have no major objection to having a portion of punitive damages go to the state.”)(May 26)(and see Jun. 1 on the governor’s fanciful revenue scoring), and Kevin Drum (“probably a good idea”) May 29.

See also Adam Liptak, “Schwarzenegger Sees Money for State in Punitive Damages”, New York Times, May 30. More editorial and commentary links: Dan Walters, “Arnold enters battle over tort reform”, Sacramento Bee/Alameda Times-Star, May 29; “Sensible concept, suspicious numbers” (editorial), San Jose Mercury News, May 25 (reg); Phil Yost, “Governor’s budget counts on windfall that won’t arrive”, San Jose Mercury News, May 30 (reg); “A lawyer joke” (editorial), San Francisco Chronicle, May 27; George Skelton, “Proposal to Tap Punitive Damage Awards Has Many Agendas”, Los Angeles Times, May 24; “State profit in punishment” (editorial), Los Angeles Times, May 24. Further: Martin Grace has some more information about collections under the Georgia “split-award” statute (Jun. 2), and Paul Caron at TaxProfBlog discussed the proposal May 20.

Miss. governor: legal climate helped cost us auto plant

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says the Magnolia State’s famously pro-plaintiff litigation climate may have played a role in Toyota’s decision last year to locate a new plant in Texas rather than northern Mississippi. Barbour “gave reporters and legislators copies of a letter written to him last week by Dennis C. Cuneo, a New York-based senior vice president of Toyota Motor North America Inc. …Cuneo said he led the site selection for the Japanese auto maker’s newest plants and was impressed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s commitment to changing that state’s civil justice system. Cuneo wrote Mississippi is ‘desirable’ for its infrastructure, pool of skilled labor, quality of life and proximity to other Toyota plants and suppliers. But he said ‘the litigation climate in Mississippi is unfavorable, and negatively impacts the state’s business climate.'” (Emily Wagster Pettus, “Barbour: Legal climate hurt state in push to get Toyota plant”, AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald, Apr. 26). Barbour was promptly assailed by lawmaker Ed Blackmon, himself a successful plaintiff’s lawyer, who heads a judiciary committee in the lower house of the Mississippi legislature where he has helped to bottle up liability reform. Blackmun said he “doesn’t believe tort reform played a role in Toyota’s decision and said he guesses ‘Maybe someone at Toyota owed (Barbour) a favor’ and wrote the letter.” (Geoff Pender, “House, Senate show little tort progress”, AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald, Apr. 27; Shelia Hardwell Byrd, “Barbour says House needs chance to vote on tort reform”, AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald, Apr. 29; “Letter shows state needs tort reform” (editorial), Natchez Democrat, Apr. 27; Julie Goodman, “Lawmaker accuses gov. of exploiting tort myth”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Apr. 29).