“The Irish News must pay £25,000 plus court costs to a west Belfast Italian restaurant owner after a jury found a food critic’s review to be defamatory.” (“£25K for food critic’s poison pen”, BBC, Feb. 8). Journalist Caroline Workman, in a review of Ciaran Convery’s restaurant Goodfellas, had “described his staff as unhelpful, his cola as flat, and his chicken marsala ‘so sweet as to be inedible'”. Guardian restaurant critic Matthew Norman described the jury verdict as “very worrying news”: “You really cannot overstate the imbecility of a libel jury: what we really need now is a sustained campaign against our ludicrous libel laws.” (Maev Kennedy, “Critics bite back after restaurant reviewer sued for calling chicken too sweet”, Guardian, Feb. 10).
Some quick links:
- Michael Krauss reviews a Mississippi Court of Appeals decision on a bogus fender-bender claim. [Point of Law; Gilbert v. Ireland]
- Yet another example of overbroad laws on sex offenders (see also Jul. 3, 2005). [Above the Law]
- “As far as the law is concerned, those individuals whose pacemakers fail are the lucky ones.” [TortsProf Blog]
- Emerson Electric sues NBC in St. Louis over a scene in an hourly drama where a cheerleader mangles her hand in a branded garbage disposal. [Hollywood Reporter, Esq.; Lattman; Defamer and Defamer update; St. Louis Post Dispatch]
- A case that’s really not about the money: Man stiffs restaurant over $46 check, defends himself against misdemeanor charge with $500/lawyer. [St. Petersburg Times; Obscure Store]
- Bill Childs catches yet another Justinian Lane misrepresentation. See also Sep. 26 and Sep. 17 (cf. related posts on Lane’s co-blogger Oct. 3 and Sep. 25), and we might just have to retire the category, since we can only hope to scratch the surface. Point of Law has the Gary Schwartz law review article discussed by Childs. [TortsProf Blog and ] Lane’s post also deliberately confuses non-economic damages caps with total damages caps: nothing stops someone with more than $250,000 in economic damages from recovering more than $250,000, even in a world with non-economic damages caps.
- Update: Bill Childs in the comments-section to Lane:
“Of course, all of this gets pretty far afield from what I originally wrote and that you’ve conceded, which is that you (unintentionally but sloppily) misrepresented the facts of the Pinto memo, failed to research its background beyond what was apparently represented to you, and still haven’t (last time I checked, at 9:10 p.m.) updated your site to reflect your error. Nor have you approved the trackback I sent to the site. You’ve posted comments to that very entry and another entry has gone up on the site, but readers still see the plainly inaccurate statement that the memo excerpt you show was Ford evaluating tort liability for rearendings, when in fact it was Ford evaluating a regulatory proposal for rollovers using numbers from NHTSA.
Councilman Joel Rivera, who heads the New York City Council health committee, likes that idea on grounds of protecting city residents from their own choices (as opposed to on grounds of protecting neighbors against traffic, litter, etc.) (“Councilman: Limit fast food places to fight fat”, AM New York, Jun. 21; Carl Campanile and Mathew Charles, “Make That Fast Food ‘To Go’: Council Big”, New York Post, Jun. 22; KipEsquire, Jun. 22; The Rant Shack, Jun. 22). Similarly, from Ireland: Feb. 17, 2004.
The grandson of James Joyce, Stephen James Joyce, has used his control of the copyrights to Joyce’s work to impede scholarly research by threatening to withhold consent to any academic who would veer into investigation of the family history. He spent a hundred thousand dollars of the estate’s money to halt publication of a new edition of “Ulysses”; has “blocked or discouraged” a number of readings; and threatened to sue the National Library of Ireland when it sought to display its copies of Joyce’s manuscripts. In revenge for Michael Groden’s favorable blurb of a scholar Stephen Joyce disliked, Joyce quoted a price of a million and a half dollars for Groden’s right to quote “Ulysses” in the multimedia work he spent seven years preparing. D.T. Max in the June 19 New Yorker explores the younger Joyce’s battles, and also mentions other litigious literary estates.
In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a group of Sikh “protesters” forced the cancellation of a controversial play described as a “black comedy” that centered around rape and murder at a Sikh temple. The details are in this article (registration is gratis) and some outrage is in this short lead editorial.
Here is what is most worrisome — the notion that free speech must give way to the (violent) protests of the community (and the concurrent lack of protection by peace officers). The attitude is nicely encapsulated by these two reactions:
I was a guest on Mark Carbonaro’s a.m. show this morning on KION-AM in Salinas, Calif. to discuss The Rule of Lawyers. To book a broadcast interview on the book, email me directly or contact Jamie Stockton at the St. Martin’s/Griffin publicity department: 212-674-5151, ext. 502.
Some other recently noted publicity on The Rule of Lawyers: reviewer Art Taylor of Metro Magazine in North Carolina’s Research Triangle named it as one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2003 (Jan.). Writing in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, Hal Heaton of the Brigham Young University Center for Entrepreneurship devoted much of a column to discussing the book’s contents (“Litigation hinders new ideas, growth”, Jul. 11, not online). And Maurice Neligan, a distinguished cardiac surgeon in Ireland, recommends the book as “most revealing” in a piece published in Irish Times (“Common sense, fat chance”, May 11, not online).
In a far-reaching reform intended to curb its rising litigation rate, Ireland recently adopted the system sometimes known as scheduled damages: an official panel, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, has been established to publish recommended guidelines (the “Quantum”) for the pain and suffering component of sued-over serious injuries, thus reducing the need to litigate each damage determination afresh. Scheduled compensation and like devices are often encountered in European court systems but, aside from workers’ compensation, are virtually unknown here. I discuss the Irish reforms and their implications at more length today on Point of Law.
In Ireland, an official health board has objected to the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in the County Clare town of Ennis, saying its products might make children fat. “Community dietitians” on the board have insisted that before the restaurant chain has its permit application approved it should “prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to determine what effect the restaurant will have on the health of children in the Ennis area.” (“Board opposes a McDonald’s for Ennis over health factors”, Irish Times, Feb. 3). Further reading on the slimness-through-legal-compulsion crusade: David Gratzer (Manhattan Institute), “Cadbury Replaces Cholera”, National Review Online, Feb. 12; Todd G. Buchholz, “Burgers, Fries, and Lawyers”, Policy Review, Feb.; Kelly Jane Torrence, “Food Fight”, Reason, Dec. 23.
October 30-31 — “Give It Back to the Indians?” Just out: our editor has an article in the new issue of City Journal (Autumn) on how the sad history of Indian land claim litigation in the Northeast — in which, over the past 25 years, the courts have allowed tribes to revive territorial claims thought to have been resolved as long ago as the presidency of George Washington — may prefigure the misery in store if our legal system gives the go-ahead to lawsuits over slavery reparations. (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — Deflating Spitzer’s crusade. Long but incisive article by Michael Lewis challenging the much-bruited notion that Wall Street skullduggery was mainly responsible for the boom and bust in tech stocks, and specifically deflating the pretensions of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who’s positioned himself at the forefront of the resulting legal crusade. Among Lewis’s key points: 1) the boom was no mere artifact of Wall Street hype, big firms like Merrill Lynch having mostly followed the investing public into tech mania rather than leading them there; 2) the line between visionary rethinking of current business practice and hallucinatory speculation was nowhere near as clear at the time as it seems in hindsight; 3) the supposedly occult conflict of interest between research and underwriting was hidden in such plain sight that anyone paying half-attention to the Street should have been aware of it; 4) the boom — even given its bust — did a great deal of social good; 5) the quest to clean up the stock-touting process obscures from the public the real lesson it would do well to absorb, which is that stock-picking advice from brokerages is generally useless whether sincere or not; 6) it’s not hard to read emails as establishing guilt if you let lawyers cherry-pick a few of them out of thousands while dropping their context. (Michael Lewis, “In Defense of the Boom”, New York Times Magazine, Oct. 27). For a contrasting view, calling Lewis’s article “nonsense”, see Peter Eavis, “The Billboard: Boom Boom”, New York Press, Oct. 28. On how Spitzer came into possession of the Merrill Lynch emails that enabled him to stage-manage much of this summer’s news flow, see Nicholas Varchaver, “Lawyers Target More Than Merrill”, Fortune, Jun. 10 (a plaintiffs’ lawyer evidently sent them over after settling a suit with the brokerage; the resulting Spitzer-driven publicity brought a bonanza of new cases to the lawyer’s door). (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — Mistrial in Providence lead-paint case. “The six-member jury sent a note to the judge shortly after 2 p.m. that it could not reach a unanimous decision on whether the paints constituted a public nuisance.” (“Mistrial declared in landmark lead paint trial”, Providence Journal, Oct. 29; AP/Law.com, Oct. 30). “Four jurors [on the six-person panel] sided with the paint companies and two voted for the state. … About one minute after the mistrial became public, the stock prices of several defendants began shooting up …. The Sherwin-Williams Co. alone increased in value by nearly half a billion dollars.” (Peter B. Lord, “Trailblazing lead paint trial ends in deadlock”, Providence Journal, Oct. 30). So it’s back to surface-prep work for the closely watched effort to cover the world with litigation (see Oct. 28), and trial lawyers can’t be happy about the fact that their chief ally in the matter, Rhode Island attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse, will be departing office shortly. Have they painted themselves into a corner? Whitehouse for his part blames the paint companies for being “litigious”, recalling the famous French saying: “It is a very vicious animal. When attacked, it defends itself.” Update: see also “The Hand of Providence” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Oct 31, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform site. (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — “Nannies to sue for racial bias”. Great Britain: “Familes who hire nannies, cleaners and gardeners in their own homes face being sued for racial discrimination under a major shake-up of race relations laws. … Under plans to be published by the Home Office in the next fortnight, the Race Relations Act is expected to be tightened to include private householders as part of sweeping changes expected to trigger a flood of new tribunal cases. Householders could be taken to tribunals if they behave in a racist manner towards domestic help, for example, by refusing to hire a black carer for children. … The only exemption would be if they can show a ‘genuine occupational requirement’ to hire someone of a particular racial group — such as an elderly Muslim woman who wanted a home help who was also a Muslim. Critics will argue that the change could cause a legal nightmare for ordinary families, who could face bills for damages running into thousands of pounds unless they read up on the intricacies of employment law.”
Initial opposition to the new proposals appears to be tepid at best: thus the Conservative party’s shadow industry minister merely voices doubts about whether the measure is “likely to be effective,” while a spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry “said it would broadly welcome the changes,” though the CBI did express misgivings about another of the proposals in the antibias package, under which “for the first time the burden of proof in all employment tribunals would …be shifted so that it is effectively up to employers to prove they are not racist, rather than workers to prove that there was discrimination, so long as there is a prima facie case to answer.” (Gaby Hinsliff, The Observer (U.K.), Oct. 20). (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — Monday: 13,555 pages served on Overlawyered.com. October 28 was one of our busiest days yet on the site, with traffic boosted by reader interest in our link roundups on the Moscow hostage episode (especially the WSJ‘s “Best of the Web” mention) on top of the 4,000-6,000 pages that we’re accustomed to serve on a more ordinary weekday. Thanks for your support!
P.S. Oops! Our unfamiliarity with our new statistics program led us to overcount: the Oct. 28 figure should have instead been 9,800 pages served, and the “regular” range 3,500-5,000. Still pretty good. (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Welcome WSJ Best of the Web readers. Readers looking for our earlier coverage of the Moscow theater siege will find it here and here.
MORE COVERAGE: Among accounts of the theater storming based on firsthand interviews are Alice Lagnado, “As dawn neared, a light mist suddenly came down”, Times (U.K.), Oct. 28, and Mark MacKinnon, “‘All they had to do was push the button'”, Globe and Mail (Canada), Oct. 28. The Bush White House declined to blame the Russian authorities for the hostage toll, saying responsibility rests with the captors: “The Russian government and the Russian people are victims of this tragedy, and the tragedy was caused as a result of the terrorists who took hostages and booby-trapped the building and created dire circumstances,” said spokesman Ari Fleischer. ( “White House: Blame Lies With Captors”, AP/Yahoo, Oct. 27). Other commentaries: Kieran Healy (Oct. 27), Mark Kleiman (Oct. 27); Mark Riebling reader comments. (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Ambulances, paramedics sued more. “A growing ambulance industry is learning that malpractice suits are not just for doctors anymore. … [one defense lawyer] says there’s a tough lesson to be learned in all ambulance cases. ‘You can do everything right, and you can still get sued.'” Includes a revealing quote from a Boston plaintiff’s lawyer about how he tries to get jurors so upset at alleged bumbling by ambulance operators that they “make short work” of the crucial question of whether that conduct was actually responsible for the patient’s injury. (Tresa Baldas, “Mean Streets”, National Law Journal, Oct. 23). (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Anticipatory law enforcement. Following the lead of some other jurisdictions, the city of Cincinnati has adopted new ordinances targeting men who patronize prostitutes (“johns”) by allowing the city to seize their cars. The ordinances don’t take effect until next month, which hasn’t kept the city police department’s vice unit from carrying out a significant number of car impoundments already, 13 in one week. “Even though the ordinances haven’t gone into effect yet, [Lt. John] Gallespie said the cars were impounded ‘for safekeeping.'” (Craig Garretson, “Police seize ‘johns’ cars”, Cincinnati Post, Oct. 21). (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — R.I. lead paint case goes to jury. Rhode Island’s lawsuit against the lead paint industry, a concoction of ambitious trial lawyers and the politicians they love, has now gone to a jury after a two-month trial that’s been curiously underpublicized considering the case’s implications for American industry (“Jury deliberates for second day in lead paint case”, AP/CNN, Oct. 25). The state “is pursuing the novel claim that the defendant manufacturers and distributors of lead paint or lead created a public nuisance and should be held responsible for cleaning up what’s remaining in thousands of buildings in the state. The first phase of the trial will consider only one question — whether the presence of lead paint in Rhode Island buildings constitutes a public nuisance.” If the jury votes in favor of that theory, later phases of trial will consider such issues as fault and damages. (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Rhode Island to Try First State Suit Over Lead Paint”, National Law Journal, Aug. 19).
Perhaps the best journalistic treatment we’ve seen of this travesty is found in a Forbes cover story from last year that is available now in fee-based archives (Michael Freedman, “Turning Lead Into Gold”, Forbes, May 14, 2001). The article explores how the nation’s richest tort law firm, Charleston, S.C.-based tobacco-asbestos powerhouse Ness Motley, moved into Rhode Island and quickly made itself the state’s largest political contributor, around the same time as it was picking up a contingency fee contract from state attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse to represent the state in the lead paint litigation. (Whitehouse proceeded to run for governor this year, but lost narrowly in the Democratic primary). To date, while trial lawyers have recruited numerous cities, counties and school districts around the country to sue paint makers, they have not persuaded any other states to join Rhode Island in its action (see our commentary of Jun. 7, 2001). At the same time, there are plenty of reasons to mistrust the contention that a “lead poisoning epidemic” can somehow be blamed for educational failure and crime among young people in inner-city neighborhoods like South Providence, R.I. Levels of lead exposure once typical of American children have now been retrospectively redefined as “poisoning”, thus ensuring the sense of a continuing crisis (see our commentary of Jun. 8-10, 2001). See also Steven Malanga, “Lead Paint Scam”, New York Post, Jun. 24. Update Oct. 30-31: judge declares mistrial after jury deadlock. (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Looking back on EEOC v. Sears. Among the most monumental and hard-fought discrimination lawsuits ever was the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s years-long courtroom crusade against Sears, Roebuck during the 1980s over the statistical “underrepresentation” of women in some of its employment categories, such as hardware and commission sales. (Sears won, and the case became one of the Commission’s most humiliating defeats.) In one of the controversies spawned by the case, Barnard College historian Rosalind Rosenberg was attacked by many colleagues in the field of women’s studies for supposedly betraying women’s equality by allowing her scholarship to be used in the retailer’s defense. Now John Rosenberg, who was formerly married to Rosalind Rosenberg and who also worked in the Sears defense, offers a partial memoir of the episode (Oct. 25) on a new weblog titled Discriminations in which his focus will be “on the theory and practice of discrimination, and how it is reported and analyzed.” (The piece begins with an introductory riff concerning UC Irvine history professor Jon Weiner, one of those assailing Rosalind Rosenberg in the mid-1980s controversy; Weiner recently caused many a jaw to drop by stepping forward in the Nation to defend disgraced Arming America author Michael Bellesiles.) (via InstaPundit). (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Satirical-disclaimer Hall of Fame. Lawyer-driven warning labels and disclaimer notices are easy to play for laughs, and readers often bring funny satires to our attention (like Dave Barry’s). Few are worked out in as much detail, however, as this splash page on the website of The Chaser, an Australian humor magazine (scroll down): “Maintain good posture at all times while reading … may cause paper cuts … Please avoid mixing The Chaser with water and glue, which could … cause some readers to be caught in a papier mache death trap. … The Chaser is flammable. Do not set fire to your copy of The Chaser, whether with a match, cigarette lighter … [or] shining a magnifying glass on a particular little spot. … Do not shred The Chaser and use it as confetti. … We make no guarantees as to the longevity of any marital unions formed whilst using The Chaser in any part of the ceremony …”. And a whole lot more — give it a look. (DURABLE LINK)
October 26-27 — Moscow hostage crisis, updated. According to Russian authorities, at least 118 hostages were killed and more than 700 were freed after security forces stormed the theater; most of the 50 terrorist captors were also killed and all or nearly all of the rest captured. After the terrorists started executing hostages, the crowd of captives had begun to flee in panic; security forces had also pumped a kind of sleeping gas into the theater. (“Moscow Hostage Death Toll Up to 118”, AP/ABC News, Oct. 27; “Russian forces storm siege theatre”, BBC, Oct. 26; Moscow Times). Contradicting earlier accounts from authorities, “Moscow’s chief physician said Sunday that all but one of the 117 hostages who died … were killed by the effects of gas used to subdue their captors.” (AP/Washington Post, Oct. 27). “If the theatre had not been stormed, all hostages would have been killed, the Interfax journalist who was among the hostages, Olga Chernyak, said.” (Interfax/Moscow Times, Oct. 26, and scroll for more entries). More links: AP/ABC News, Oct. 26; Washington Post, Oct. 27; BBC, Oct. 27; Damian Penny. Dilacerator offers a commentary (Oct. 26), as does Natalie Solent (Oct. 27). Thanks to InstaPundit and Eugene Volokh for their links to our extensive coverage below.
More: London’s Telegraph reports that it “has learned that a number of Arab fighters, believed to be of Saudi Arabian and Yemeni origin, were among the group that seized control of the theatre. ‘There were definitely Arab terrorists in the building with links to al-Qa’eda,’ said a senior Western diplomat. … Russian officials said that the hostage-takers had made several calls to the United Arab Emirates during the siege.” (Christina Lamb and Ben Aris, “Russians probe al-Qa’eda link as Moscow siege ends with 150 dead”, Sunday Telegraph (UK), Oct. 27). Although the Moscow terrorists (like those who carried out the hijacking of United Flight 93) had magnified public terror by allowing their captives to use cell phones to call their families, the tactic once again backfired, because the resulting exchange of information made it easier to thwart the terror plans: see Preston Mendenhall, “Cell phones were rebels’ downfall”, MS/NBC, Oct. 26. And Russia’s Gazeta reports that: “A 27-year-old resident of Chechnya has been detained by Moscow law enforcers on suspicion of having carried out the October 19 car bomb attack on a McDonald’s restaurant” in which one was killed and seven injured. Authorities had previously sought to blame the bombing on gangland rivalries, but “in the light of the recent events in Moscow, the prosecutor’s office does not rule out that the explosion may have been a terrorist attack.” (“Suspect detained in McDonald’s blast inquiry”, Gazeta.ru, Oct. 25). (DURABLE LINK)
October 25-27 — Updates. New developments in cases we’ve followed:
* “Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Ramos on Tuesday froze further payments on a $625 million arbitration award to the six law firms that represented New York state in its litigation against the tobacco industry until he finishes reviewing the reasonableness of the sum.” (Daniel Wise, “Judge Freezes $625M Tobacco Award to Law Firms”, New York Law Journal, Oct. 23) (see Jul. 30-31).
* “The Canadian Transportation Agency has dismissed the complaint of an obese Calgary woman who argued her size was a disability and that airlines shouldn’t make her pay extra for a larger seat. ‘Being unable to fit in a seat should not be enough evidence of the existence of a disability as many people experience discomfort in the seat,’ the agency said in a decision released Wednesday. Calgary law professor Linda McKay-Panos, who described herself in documents as ‘morbidly obese,’ launched the process in 1997 after having to pay Air Canada for 1.5 seats because of her size.” (Judy Monchuk, “Federal board nixes Calgary woman’s bid for seat-price break for obese flyers”, Canadian Press, Oct. 23)(see Dec. 20, 2000). And in the United Kingdom, a “woman injured while squeezed next to an obese passenger on a trans-Atlantic flight has been given £13,000 ($20,000)” by Virgin Atlantic Airways. (“Woman squashed by plane passenger”, CNN, Oct. 22).
* In Paris, a panel of three judges has declared French writer Michel Houellebecq not guilty of inciting racial hatred after he was sued by four Muslim groups for delivering remarks contemptuous of Islam (“French author cleared of race hate”, BBC, Oct. 22)(see Aug. 23-25, Sept. 18-19).
* “A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals has tossed a $29.2 million civil court judgment against The Jenny Jones Show, after deciding the syndicated chatfest should not be held liable for protecting a guest who was gunned down after revealing he had a crush on another man.” (Josh Grossberg, “‘Jenny Jones’ Vindicated”, E! Online, Oct. 23). The case is another setback for controversial Michigan attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who promptly launched a characteristically intemperate attack on the appeals judges (Stephen W. Huber, “Court tosses $29M award against ‘Jenny Jones Show'”, Oakland (Mich.) Press, Oct. 24) (see May 31, 2001). More: Michigan’s LitiGator (Oct. 25).
* “Voting 2-1, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s (SEPTA) physical fitness test for job applicants of its transit police force is perfectly legal — even though it has a ‘disparate impact’ on women — because it serves as a true measure of ‘the minimum qualifications necessary for the successful performance of the job.’ …the plaintiffs claimed that the test discriminates against women because it requires all applicants for the SEPTA police force to run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes.” (Shannon P. Duffy, “3rd Circuit Rules Fitness Test for Police Force Applicants Legal”, The Legal Intelligencer, Oct. 16) (see Sept. 15, 1999, Oct. 5-7, 2001). “Interestingly, two female appellate judges joined in the opinion rejecting this claim of sex discrimination, while a male appellate judge dissented,” notes Howard Bashman (Oct. 15).
* In Australia, a judge has ruled against the Pentecostal worshiper who sued claiming a “church had been negligent by not providing someone to catch her when she was ‘slain in the spirit'” during a 1996 service, causing her to fall down and strike her head on a carpeted concrete floor. (Kelly Burke, “Church not liable for Lord’s early fallers”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 19)(see Oct. 1-2). (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — Pa. statehouse race: either way, Big Law wins. “In a race that will easily break Pennsylvania gubernatorial spending records, the top givers are lawyers, by far. … [Republican Mike] Fisher has received $125,000 since June from two law firms he named, as attorney general, to handle a state lawsuit against tobacco companies.” (see Jan. 10, 2000). “But the firms, which split $50 million in legal fees, have hedged their bets by also donating $107,000 to [Democrat Ed] Rendell.” And the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association has endorsed Rendell, who is considered less likely than Fisher to support curbs on medical malpractice lawsuits. (Tom Infield and Rose Ciotta, “Lawyers top givers to Fisher, Rendell”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 22). As mayor of Philadelphia, Rendell also made himself a booster of the abusive campaign of municipal litigation against gun manufacturers, though he held back from filing an actual suit given the unpopularity of such a move with the non-urban voters needed to win a statewide race in Pennsylvania (see Dec. 22, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — Suit: schoolkids shouldn’t attend rodeo. Two animal rights groups have filed suit “asking a San Francisco Superior Court judge to keep Bay Area schoolchildren from going to the free Grand National Rodeo day for students, which will be held at the Cow Palace on Thursday and may be repeated next year.” As many as 9,000 students are expected to attend the event. “Gina Snow, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Unified School District, said children are only allowed to attend with parental permission, and that the decisions to participate are made by individual teachers.” Attorney David Blatte of Berkeley “focuses all his work on ‘animal law'”. (Dan Reed, “Suit: Rodeo bad for kids”, San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 23). And Matthew Scully’s new book Dominion, a conservative’s defense of animal welfare, “asks all the right questions about animal rights, even if it doesn’t canvass all the possible answers”, according to the summary of a review by Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic (“Political Animals”, Nov.) (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — “California Court Upholds $290 Million Injury Jury Award Against Ford”. “The California Supreme Court let stand on Wednesday a $290 million personal injury jury award levied against Ford Motor Co. stemming from a Bronco rollover accident in 1993. The justices, without publicly commenting, decided at their private weekly conference to uphold what Ford, in court briefs, called the nation’s largest personal injury award ever affirmed by an appellate court.” (Quicken/AP, Oct. 23; Mike McKee, “California Justices Let Stand $290M Award Against Ford”, The Recorder, Oct. 24). When the original trial verdict was reported, we looked in some detail (Aug. 24 and Sept. 17-19, 1999; see also Aug. 27, 2002) at the very curious influences that held sway during the jury’s deliberations, including one juror’s lurid dream revealing Ford’s guilt, and another’s misrecollection of a “60 Minutes” episode which purportedly proved the company’s bad faith. (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — Russia’s fight, and ours. “Gunmen identifying themselves as Chechens took more than 700 people hostage inside a Moscow theater Wednesday night, threatening to kill some of the hostages and telling police they had mined portions of the building.” (“Chechen gunmen seize Moscow theater”, CNN, Oct. 23; Michael Wines, “Chechens Seize Moscow Theater, Taking as Many as 600 Hostages”, New York Times, Oct. 24 (reg); AP/ABC, “Rebels Take Moscow Audience Hostage”, Oct. 23). “Local media said children, Muslims and foreigners who could show their passports were allowed to leave the building. The reports could not be confirmed.” (Natalia Yefimova, Torrey Clark and Lyuba Pronina, “Armed Chechens Seize Moscow Theater”, Moscow Times, Oct. 24). Chechen militants have repeatedly seized civilian hostages in groups of hundreds and even thousands, as well as claiming credit for railway-station bombings in Russia (“Chechen rebels’ hostage history”, BBC, Oct. 24; “Chechen rebels hold at least 1,000 hostages in hospital”, CNN, Jan. 9, 1996; Adnan Malik, “Hijackers Free Women and Kids”, AP, Mar. 15, 2001; “Separatists’ history of hostages and horror”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 24). Since 9/11 U.S. officials have been less inclined to dispute “Russia’s long-standing claim that the Chechen rebellion, which spills over into neighboring Caucasus republics, is not just a local independence movement, but has become a full-blown subsidiary of the global Islamic terror network headed by [Osama] bin Laden.” (Fred Weir, “A new terror-war front: the Caucasus”, Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 26). Also see, on the al-Qaeda-Chechnya connection, Mark Riebling and R. P. Eddy, “[email protected]”, National Review Online, Oct. 24, and BBC, Oct. 23. The Moscow Times has a list of the names of the Westerners who are being held hostage, who include three Americans, two Britons, two Australians, and a Canadian, as well as various others (Kevin O’Flynn, “Europeans, Americans Inside Theater”, Oct. 25). Asparagirl (Oct. 23) wouldn’t be surprised if it happened here.
More: In “footage aired by Qatar’s al-Jazeera satellite TV”, a chador-clad woman who said she was one of the Chechen hostage-takers said: “We have chosen to die in Moscow and we will kill hundreds of infidels.” (“We’ll kill hundreds of infidels: Hostage-taker”, AFP/Times of India, Oct. 24). “‘I swear by God we are more keen on dying than you are keen on living,’ a black-clad male said in the broadcast believed to have been recorded on Wednesday.” Another hostage-taker, while denying that the terrorists were operating as part of al-Qaeda, told the BBC: “We have come to die. …we want to be in paradise.” (BBC, “Hostage-takers ‘ready to die'”, Oct. 25). The Russian press is treating the unfolding events as “Russia’s Sept. 11”. (BBC, Oct. 25). In an echo that Americans will find familiar, “Many channels have broadcast chilling messages from the hostages themselves, calling from their mobile phones.” (“Distant war comes to Moscow”, BBC, Oct. 24).
According to London’s Evening Standard, the terrorists are disinclined to release any more of their foreign hostages because they suspect that international interest in the episode might wane if they did so. (“Britons still held in Moscow siege”, Oct. 25). Reportedly one of the American hostages, Sandy Alan Booker, 49, who was vacationing in Moscow, hails from Oklahoma City, Okla. (“Chechen Gunmen Threaten to Begin Killing Hostages at Dawn”, AP/FoxNews, Oct. 25). Update: Russian security forces storm theater, ending siege, with more than 100 hostages killed along with most of the captors: see Oct. 26.
FURTHER: Some London, Broadway and European theater owners have stepped up security, but Andre Ptaszynski, chief executive of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s chain of 14 London theaters, virtually boasts of not taking such threats seriously, explaining that an outrage by the Irish Republican Army against the West End is considered unlikely; apparently Ptaszynski is unable to think of any other groups that might harbor terrorist designs on London. (Matt Wolf, “Some Theaters on Alert After Siege”, AP/Yahoo, Oct. 25; “London theatres increase security”, BBC, Oct. 25 (via Jen Taliaferro). Riebling and Eddy, in NRO, note: “the tactics of Chechen jihadists are regarded by the FBI as a possible indicator of al Qaeda methods in the U.S.” (DURABLE LINK)
October 23 — Batch of reader letters. We’ve been remiss in keeping up with the inbox, but here are eight letters on subjects that include lawyers’ penchant for doing things expensively, a sane damage award in Ireland, Enron’s lawyers, lawsuits over avocados and anchovies, suitable targets of gamblers’ suits, George W. Bush’s record on tort reform, whether free speech should have a racism exception, and Western wildfires. More letters are on deck for later, too. (DURABLE LINK)
October 23 — Artificial hearts experimental? Who knew? “The widow of artificial-heart recipient James Quinn yesterday sued the maker of the device, the hospital where it was implanted, and the patient advocate who helped Quinn decide to have the surgery.” The 51-year-old man survived more than eight months after receiving the mechanical heart last November, but his “initially remarkable recovery was followed by months in the hospital.” The suit says Quinn had “no quality of life and his essential human dignity had been taken from him.” “Irene Quinn said yesterday that she and her husband did not know what they were getting into when they joined the clinical trial. They thought the machine would save his life, she said. She said they should have been told more about what earlier patients had experienced and that it should have been made more clear just how experimental the device was.” (Stacey Burling, “Widow sues artificial-heart maker”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 17; “Lawsuit over artificial heart”, CBS News, Oct. 17; MedRants, Oct. 18). (DURABLE LINK)
October 22 — “Judge: Disabilities Act doesn’t cover Web”. An important ruling, but one that’s unlikely to be the last word, on a controversy we’ve covered extensively in the past: “A federal judge ruled Friday that Southwest Airlines does not have to revamp its Web site to make it more accessible to the blind. In the first case of its kind, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz said the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies only to physical spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters, and not to the Internet.” Quotes our editor who mentions the possible headaches the ADA could pose even to a modest site like this one, if it turns out to apply to the web. (Declan McCullagh, CNet/News.com, Oct. 21)(opinion). More: Matthew Haggman, “Judge Tosses Suit That Said ADA Applies to Business Web Sites”, Miami Daily Business Review, Oct. 25. (DURABLE LINK)
October 22 — “Nanny Bloomberg”. This site’s editor also has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today on the New York mayor’s crusade against smoking in bars. It’s available only to online subscribers of the Journal, unfortunately. (DURABLE LINK)
October 22 — “‘Penney’s prevails in shopper suit”. A Tennessee Court of Appeals judge has upheld a lower court’s rejection of a $600,000 lawsuit by Carolyn and Robert L. Wells against the retailer J.C. Penney. Mrs. Wells had told the court that she had been shopping for collectible crystal figurines on sale at a Penney store in Shelby County when an ill-mannered fellow shopper wrested two crystal bears from her hands, inflicting injuries on her shoulder, neck and back. However, Judge Holly K. Lillard said that the confrontation, which “demonstrates the dangers of the cutthroat arena of after-Christmas bargain shopping,” was one whose particulars the store could not have foreseen. (Tom Sharp, AP/GoMemphis.com, Oct. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — Rethinking grandparent visitation. Among the litigation-encouraging developments in family law in recent years has been the rise of laws enabling grandparents to sue demanding rights to visit their grandchildren even against the wishes of a fit parent. But both courts and lawmakers are growing disenchanted with such laws. One Seattle attorney charges that grandparents with time on their hands engage in “recreational litigation”. (Annie Hsia, “About Grandma’s Visits …”, National Law Journal, Oct. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — “Judicial Hellholes”. After surveying its members, the American Tort Reform Association presents a report describing the most frequently identified “Judicial Hellholes”, localities in which litigation abuse is common and civil defendants find it hard to get a fair trial. On the list are Alameda, Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, California; notorious counties in Mississippi, Illinois, and Texas; and others. Is your hometown court on the list? (“Bringing Justice to Judicial Hellholes 2002”, report in PDF format). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — “Our friends are at war, too”. “The first soldier to die in combat in Afghanistan was an Australian. … We’re not just fellow infidels, but brothers on a field of battle that stretches from Manhattan to Bali. If the American media don’t understand that, then the American president needs to remind them.” (Mark Steyn, “Our friends are at war, too”, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 20). See Oct. 14; also Tom Allard and Mark Baker, “PM’s vow: we’ll get the bastards”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 21; Tim Blair, “Killing terrorists wipes out terror”, The Australian, Oct. 17; Virginia Postrel (scroll to Oct. 17 and Oct. 16 posts). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — “Demand for more ugly people on TV”. “Lecturer Trond Andresen of the Norwegian Institute of Technology in Trondheim accuses the media of discriminating against the ugly and emphasizing beautiful people whenever possible. Andresen wants higher ugly quotas on television. ‘Ugly people should be spotlighted in the media in the same way that the media wishes to emphasize persons from ethnic minorities,’ Andresen, a lecture at the Department of Engineering Cybernetics, said to newspaper Bergens Tidende.” (Aftenposten, Oct. 17). (DURABLE LINK)
May 31-June 2 — Welcome Fox News viewers/readers. Our editor is interviewed on air and quoted in print in this piece on the quest to make casinos and lottery operators the next Big Tobacco (Alisyn Camerota, “Trial Lawyers Target Gambling”, Fox News, May 31) (see May 20-21). (DURABLE LINK)
May 31-June 2 — “After stabbing son, mom sues doctors”. Pennsylvania: “Janice Taylor, who stabbed her 4-year-old son two dozen times outside their Lake Ariel home in 2000, is suing her doctors for not adequately responding to her psychosis as she neared the end of a pregnancy.” (Scranton Times Tribune, May 29). (via WSJ OpinionJournal “Best of the Web“, May 30). (DURABLE LINK)
May 31-June 2 — Activist judges north of the border. In the United States judicial activism has been falling into gradual disrepute for a quarter century, but in Canada many highly placed jurists seem eager to boogie like it’s 1975: the Ontario Court of Appeal has just struck down as unconstitutional one of the central planks in welfare reform, the principle that recipients with live-in boyfriends should not draw benefits accorded to single mothers. It’s only the latest in a long string of decisions in which judges seem to be writing their own preferences into law, according to columnist Christina Blizzard. Earlier this year the Supreme Court of Canada struck down as unconstitutional a Conservative government’s repeal of a law authorizing unionization of workers on family farms, although the effect of the repeal would only have been to revert to the state of the law as of a couple of years previously. Next up: a challenge to another plank of welfare reform, a lifetime ban on payment of benefits to persons caught cheating the system. Paging Mickey Kaus — they need you up there! (Christina Blizzard, “Disorder in the court”, Toronto Sun/Canoe, May 18). On U.S. judicial activism, see John Leo, “Running away with the law”, U.S. News/Jewish World Report, May 13. (& see letter to the editor, Jun. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
May 31-June 2 — Folk medicine meets child abuse reporting. The Vietnamese and Hmong folk remedy cao gio, or coining, “involves the rubbing of warm oils or gels across a person’s skin with a coin, spoon or other flat object. It leaves bright red marks or bruises, but many Asian families believe the marks represent bad blood rising out of the body and allow improved circulation and healing.” The lesions are typically not of medical significance, according to many Western medical observers, but they sometimes lead school and social service workers to report suspected child abuse, in part owing to the influence of laws mandating that possible instances of abuse be reported even if borderline. In Omaha, following such reports, police swooped down and removed ten children from their parents; following an outcry, charges against the parents were dropped and the children were returned to their homes. (Omaha World-Herald coverage including Joe Dejka, “Asian couples work to get children back”, May 3; Jeremy Olson, “Asian remedy raises few alarms elsewhere”, May 3; Joseph Morton, “2nd coining case dropped; Asian family expresses relief”, May 14; Karyn Spencer and Angie Brunkow, “Officials not sanctioning all ‘coining'”, May 17). (DURABLE LINK)
May 30 — “Oxy Morons”. “Last fall,” reports Forbes, North Carolina law firm Lutzel & Associates “sent a letter soliciting users of [time-release pain medication] Oxycontin and several other drugs. Claiming that the Food & Drug Administration had ‘banned’ the medications, the letter advised them to ‘stop using’ the drugs immediately.” But in fact Oxycontin was neither banned nor threatened with removal, and for a patient suffering pain suddenly to discontinue its use without a doctor’s recommendation can result in medically serious consequences as well as needless agony. (Ian Zack, “Oxy Morons”, Forbes.com, Apr. 29). Despite vigorous efforts by some plaintiff’s lawyers to stoke mass tort litigation over the drug (see Apr. 10 and links from there), the National Law Journal reports that drugmaker Purdue Pharma has “had a string of confidence-building victories in early litigation.” (Bob Van Voris, “OxyContin Maker Not Yet Feeling Much Pain”, National Law Journal, April 30). (DURABLE LINK)
May 30 — “Privileged chambers”. Earlier this year the Albany Times Union ran a five-day editorial series (“Unequal Justice” — scroll down to find it) on judicial misconduct in New York state. It concluded that discipline is generally lax when Empire State judges behave badly and that it can take years to remove a jurist from the bench even after charges of serious misconduct (“Privileged chambers”, Feb. 3; “Justice denied”, Feb. 4; “Conduct unbecoming”, Feb. 5; “Starving the watchdog”, Feb. 6; “The need for reform”, Feb. 7). (DURABLE LINK)
May 29 — Our editor interviewed. John Hawkins at Right Wing News interviewed our editor by email about this site and our ideas on legal reform, and publishes the results this morning (“An Interview with Walter Olson“). Earlier interviewees in the series include Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit, Wendy McElroy of iFeminists and FoxNews.com, and Australian journalist Tim Blair. Update: nice things said about this by Protein Wisdom, VodkaPundit, and Eve Tushnet.
May 28-29 — The scandal of the Phoenix memo. It warned FBI higher-ups that Islamic radicals including followers of Osama bin Laden were training at American flight schools. So why wasn’t it followed up? FBI director Robert Mueller told Senators May 8 that it would have been a “monumental undertaking” to investigate the 20,000 or so students at domestic flight schools. “What a load of nonsense,” writes Christopher Caldwell. “Any small-town newspaper reporter could have narrowed down that 20,000 to under a hundred in an afternoon, just by focusing on names like … oh, I don’t know … try Mohamed, Walid, Marwan, and Hamza. Couldn’t the entire FBI have done the same?
“As it turns out, no. And the reason is, whoever got Williams’s memo would understand that there is one commonsensical way to implement it: Look for Arabs. And given congressional pressure on racial profiling and the president’s own outrageous pandering on the subject during the 2000 election campaign, Williams’s lead was something no agent with an instinct for self-preservation would want to touch with a barge pole.” (Christopher Caldwell, “Low Profile”, Weekly Standard, May 24) (via WSJ Best of the Web, May 24). See also John Fund, “Willful Ignorance”, WSJ OpinionJournal.com, May 22; “Key Lawmaker: Probe of FBI Warrant Will Look at ‘Racial Profiling’ Concerns”, AP/Fox News, May 26). Update: perfect Mark Steyn column (“Stop frisking crippled nuns”, The Spectator, May 25). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28-29 — “Rocketing liability rates squeeze medical schools”. “The University of Nevada School of Medicine in Reno could be forced to close if it can’t find affordable liability insurance by June 30. In West Virginia, Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine in Huntington has cut its pathology program and is trimming resident class size. Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine in Hershey is cutting faculty salaries, which will make it hard to land top researchers. ‘The sudden, very large increase in expenses that were not anticipated or budgeted is creating a great deal of anxiety,’ says Jordan J. Cohen, MD, president of the Assn. of American Medical Colleges.” (Myrle Croasdale, American Medical News, May 20). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28-29 — “Barbed wire might hurt burglars, pensioner warned”. In Northampton, England, 94-year-old Ruby Barber has finally gotten permission from the borough council to put barbed wire on her garden walls after suffering four break-ins to her bungalow over the past year and a half. The council granted permission “as long as she uses warning signs and agrees to take full responsibility if a would-be intruder is injured“. Her son Burt, who lives nearby, said: “It is bordering on the ridiculous to say that if they hurt themselves getting in here I am responsible. The Queen has got it all around Buckingham Palace and if it is good enough for her it is good enough for my mother. She is the Queen to me.” (Ananova, May 24). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28-29 — Must-know-Spanish rules defended. Recently it was reported that a Miami social services agency was requiring an Anglo worker to learn Spanish on pain of losing her job. Some commentators were upset, but Eugene Volokh, of the Volokhii, argues that “speaking a foreign language is a valuable skill, and … employers may legally discriminate against employees who lack this skill”. (Volokh blog, May 8, May 11; Jim Boulet Jr., “Mandatory Spanish”, National Review Online, May 10, and running commentary by Boulet at English First site). And the factual background of the case turns out to be considerably less simple than first reports indicated; not only does the county deny that failure to learn Spanish was the reason for the worker’s firing, but it seems she held herself out as having “proficiency” in that language when she accepted the job (Jay Weaver, “Poor work, not language barrier, got employee fired, court says”, Miami Herald, May 11). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28-29 — Goodbye, Wendell Barry. Eve Tushnet administers a well-deserved thrashing to the overrated localist (“Hayseeds and Straw Men”, Eve Tushnet blog, May 27) (DURABLE LINK)
May 27 — McArdle on food as next-tobacco. “If you can’t be held responsible for what you put in your mouth, what are you responsible for?” (Megan McArdle, “Can We Sue Our Own Fat Asses Off?”, Salon, May 24). See also Duncan Campbell, “Junk food firms fear being eaten alive by fat litigants”, The Guardian, May 24; Jacob Sullum, “Food Fight”, Reason Online, May 10 (& see Jun. 3-4). (DURABLE LINK)
May 27 — “Lawsuit stifles Internet critics”. The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Long Island Business News have new stories out on the PetsWarehouse case (in which a pet store owner has sued aquatic plants hobbyists on charges of online defamation based on their postings on mailing lists and websites — see Aug. 6, 2001 & May 22, 2002). Both interview several parties, including defendant Dan Resler (a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University), plaintiff Robert Novak, and (in the Richmond paper) free-speech law commentator Rodney Smolla. A key factor working to defendants’ disadvantage: liberal jurisdictional rules which allow a plaintiff to file an Internet libel case in his local court (in this case the Eastern District of New York) and force defendants who live in distant states to shoulder the cost of litigating there from a distance. (Gordon Hickey, “Online speech not free”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 26). In Long Island Business News, owner Novak is quoted as being aware of this cost asymmetry: “‘It’s only five miles for me,’ he said. ‘All these people have to come here at their own expense.'” (Ken Schachter, Long Island Business News, “PetsWarehouse.com founder dries out aquarists in courts”, May 24-30). More on Internet jurisdiction: Carl S. Kaplan, “A Libel Suit May Establish E-Jurisdiction”, New York Times, May 27 (reg). Update Oct. 4-6: Novak sues Google and other defendants. Further update: Oct. 5, 2003. (DURABLE LINK)
May 24-26 — Nader credibility watch. In France, the litigation advocate called fast-food restaurants “weapons of mass destruction”. (“Ralph Nader met en garde les Français contre les ‘fast food'”, Yahoo/AFP, May 17; via Matt Welch, May 18; see comments at Tim Blair blog, May 26). More on Nader’s credibility or lack thereof: Matt Welch, “Speaking Lies To Power”, Reason, May; Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe, Apr. 21. (DURABLE LINK)
May 24-26 — “Counseling center may face closure”. Chickasha, Okla.: “The largest civil verdict in Grady County history may mean the county’s largest mental health center will have to close for financial reasons, officials said Wednesday. A $1.5 million jury verdict awarded last week against Chisholm Trail Counseling Service was a bittersweet victory for the family of James Phillips, who committed suicide a few hours after being interviewed and released by one of the agency’s counselors.” (Penny Owen, The Oklahoman, May 23). (DURABLE LINK)
May 24-26 — Australia’s litigation debate. “Some of Australia’s most famous beaches face closure after a huge damages award to a man paralysed while swimming at Bondi Beach, local authorities have warned.” (BBC, “Closure ‘threat’ to Australia’s beaches”, May 14). Former chief justice of the High Court of Australia Harry Gibbs “said the culture of litigation had been fostered by some lawyers, while some judges seemed to strive to find a reason for finding in favour of an injured plaintiff and award damages in cases where a reasonable and informed person would not have thought the defendant was at fault. He said the deficiencies of the law of negligence had now become apparent. ‘It favours generosity to the plaintiff at the expense (in many cases) of justice to the defendant’.” Gibbs suggested that Australia might want to consider emulating the New Zealand model under which most negligence actions are replaced with a system of no-fault compensation. (“Lawyers blamed for crisis” (editorial), Queensland Courier-Mail, May 16). See Susanna Lobez, “Snails, Consumer Power and the Law”, ABC national radio transcripts, The Law Report, June 1, 1999)
“The latest figures available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that as of June 30, 1999, there were 10,819 barrister and solicitor practices in Australia, an increase of 11 per cent over three years, and these practices generated an income of $7.04 billion, a robust 27 per cent increase over three years. Income from personal injury cases grew still faster, by 31 per cent.” What strikes us as remarkable about these figures is not just the rapid growth in sums redistributed, but that the figures are obtainable at all. Virtually no data is available, reliable or otherwise, on how much money American lawyers receive in the aggregate from personal injury cases. Why not? If the answer that occurs to you is “because our legal profession doesn’t want it to be collected”, you may be on to something. (Paul Sheehan, “Laws made by lawyers — well they would like that, wouldn’t they?”, Sydney Morning Herald, May 6). (DURABLE LINK)
May 22-23 — Convicted hospital rapist sues hospital. “A Sandusky man serving a 10-year sentence for raping a patient at the former Providence Hospital is suing both the hospital and his former attorney for negligence, according to Erie County Common Pleas Court records. Edward Brewer filed suit Monday against Providence Hospital, now part of Firelands Regional Medical Center, for ‘inadequate security in protecting visitors as well as their patients’ which caused him pain and suffering, according to court documents. Brewer, 47, was found guilty in October of raping a 44-year-old acquaintance in her hospital bed in June 1998. … Brewer claims negligence by the hospital, including a poorly trained nursing staff, negatively affected his criminal case, according to the suit.” The suit, which Brewer filed on his own behalf, asks for $2 million in damages; separately, Brewer is suing his former criminal attorney. (Emily S. Achenbaum, “Convicted rapist sues hospital”, Sandusky [Ohio] Register, May 21). Update: court dismisses case, see Mar. 5-7, 2003. (DURABLE LINK)
May 22-23 — Reparations suits “pure hooey”. The “slave-reparation plaintiffs have articulated neither standing nor a cognizable claim. In the final analysis, these cases are not really about pushing the envelope and making new law. Rather, they are part of a strategy to inflict public relations damage in order to coerce political and economic concessions. The federal courts should stand firm against this gathering storm, dismiss the lawsuits and leave the complex issues of social policy they raise to the political process.” (Steven P. Benenson, “Reparations Suits Are Too Little, Too Late”, National Law Journal, May 20). “Any judge not assessing sanctions for the filing of frivolous litigation should be ashamed. … So much for laches, the statute of limitations and all the other legal devices that assure that disputes are resolved in a timely manner. No wonder the world laughs at our love of litigation.” (Norm Pattis, “The Color of Money: It’s Red for Reparations”, Connecticut Law Tribune, Apr. 15).
“The villain Calvera said, ‘Generosity, that was my first mistake,’ as he peered ominously from beneath his mega-sombrero at the gringo gunman in the classic scene from the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven. … Honchos at Aetna Inc., the insurance company named in a recent lawsuit seeking reparations for slavery, must be remembering that quote right about now.” (Gregory Kane, “Generosity goes unnoticed in slavery reparations lawsuit”, Baltimore Sun, Apr. 20). Kane says Aetna has responded to the suit with “infuriating wussiness” and says “what Aetna bigwigs should tell [plaintiff-activist Deadria] Farmer-Paellmann and her lawyers [is]: ‘Get a life!'” (DURABLE LINK)
May 22-23 — PetsWarehouse.com defamation suit, cont’d. Last year we reported on the ongoing litigation filed by Robert Novak, founder and owner of PetsWarehouse.com, against members of an internet discussion list that he said had defamed him and his company (see Aug. 6, 2001; letter to editor from Novak, Aug. 10). Many aquarium enthusiasts, alarmed by the legal action, have at various times posted information on their sites about the suit, sometimes posting banners that solicit donations on the defendants’ behalf. (“$15,000,000 lawsuits suck the life out of online discussions. Please support the APD Defense Fund,” reads one.) According to Katharine Mieszkowski, writing last month in Salon, a number of these site operators have been given reason to regret that they ever took such rash steps. In particular, according to Mieszkowski, Novak has proceeded to add more defendants to the suit, including supporters of the APD Defense Fund who put up its banner solicitations, and the webmaster of a site that had posted information on the case, charging them with violating his PetsWarehouse copyright and engaging in a conspiracy against him. Among evidence of copyright infringement offered in his suit was webmasters’ use of Pets Warehouse as a “metatag”, that is to say, a keyword directed at search engines but not normally seen by ordinary users (more on metatag litigation: Sept. 25, 1999).
A number of defendants have settled out of the case, including a Colorado webmaster who says she spent thousands on her defense and who turned over the rights to her domain to Novak as part of the settlement, having shut it down after being sued. “Other defendants had to run banners on their sites promoting Pets Warehouse.” “According to [defendant Dan] Resler, at one point, the money in the defense fund ran out, and when the defendants had to start paying out of their own funds, they got scared. (Novak is representing himself ‘pro se’ in the case.)” Resler himself agreed to pay $4,150. “Beyond the lawsuit itself, other supporters of the case say they have received cease-and-desist letters for using the words ‘Pets Warehouse’ on their sites.” Among them: the webmaster of a site that “features a banner advertisement that mentions the case with this headline: ‘Pets Warehouse Sues Hobbyists’ and links to the aquarists’ site about the case. ‘I’m just literally reporting that the case exists and linking to another site,’ he says.” (Katharine Mieszkowski, “Free speech and the Internet; a fish story”, Salon, Apr. 4). (DURABLE LINK)