- 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]
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.]
- Curlin gets 400 new owners, as the Kentucky fen-phen plaintiffs ripped off by their attorneys get the right to seize Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion’s 20% share of the Preakness Stakes winner. [AP/NYT; earlier]
- As Lerach pleads guilty, LA Times editorial defends class action abuses, incorrectly says that the PSLRA fixed everything and that Lerach didn’t act illegally after it was passed. [LA Times]
- That $10.9 million verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church was “not about the money.” [Reuters] Really, now, this case imposing bankrupting damages for a protest on a public sidewalk is appalling. Granted: Phelps is bigoted scum, and rude bigoted scum at that. But Albert Snyder’s claimed physical injury is that the protest exacerbated his diabetes: what sort of junk science is that? NB that Snyder was not even aware of the protest at the funeral until he watched it on television. Why not liability for the news program? Even those happy to see the anti-gay bigotry of the WBC punished should take pause: Snyder testified at length that the protest upset him particularly because his son was not gay.
- Overlawyered favorite Willie Gary (Apr. 29, Oct. 2004), on the hook for $28,000/month in child support for love child. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
- Deep-pocket search in Great White fire case. [Childs]
- Lawsuit over which school 9-year-old can play football for. [Tulsa World (via TMQ G. Easterbrook)] Worse, the judge rewarded the plaintiff by second-guessing the league decision. [Tulsa World]
- It only takes ten months of legal proceedings for Cal-Berkeley to evict trespassers squatting on university property. [SF Gate]
- Don’t hold your breath: who’s watching the trial lawyers? [Examiner]
- She wore a wire: defense attorney says administrative assistant to one of the three lawyers in Kentucky fen-phen scandal worked as FBI mole, circumventing attorney-client privilege [AP, Courier-Journal, Lexington Herald-Leader, ABA Journal]
- Suing a lawyer because his deposition questions inflicted emotional distress? No way we’re going to open those floodgates, says court [NJLJ]
- Counsel Financial Services LLC, which stakes injury lawyers pending their paydays, says it’s “the largest provider of attorney loans in the United States and the only Law Firm Financing company endorsed by the AAJ (formerly ATLA)”; its friendly public face is a retired N.Y. judge while its founder is attorney Joseph DiNardo, suspended from practice in 2000 “after pleading guilty to filing a false federal tax return” and whose own lend-to-litigants operation, Plaintiff Support Services, shares an office suite with Counsel [Buffalo News] The firm’s current listing of executives includes no mention of DiNardo, though a Jul. 19 GoogleCached version has him listed as President;
- Patent litigation over cardiac stents criticized as “a horrendous waste of money” [N.Y. Times]
- More on the “pro bono road to riches”, this time from a California tenant case [Greg May, Cal Blog of Appeal]
- Not a new problem, but still one worth worrying about: what lawyers can do with charitable trusts when no one’s looking over their shoulder [N.Y. Times via ABA Journal]
- Has it suddenly turned legal to stage massive disruptions of rush-hour traffic, or are serial-lawbreaking cyclists “Critical Mass” just considered above the law? [Kersten @ Star-Tribune]
- “Look whose head is on a plate now”: no tears shed for fallen Lerach by attorney who fought him in the celebrated Fischel case [ChicTrib, San Diego U-T]
- “Jena Six” mythos obscures graver injustice to black defendants, namely criminal system’s imposition of long sentences for nonviolent offenses [Stuart Taylor, Jr. @ National Journal — will rotate off site]
- Economist David Henderson on restaurant smoking bans [Econ Journal Watch, PDF, via Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”]
- Technical note: we learned from reader Christian Southwick that our roundups were displaying poorly on Internet Explorer (Ted and I use other browsers) and we found a way to fix. So, IE users, please drop us a line when you encounter problems — we may not hear about them otherwise.
We’ve provided extensive coverage of the Kentucky fen-phen scandal, in which the lawyers who represented fen-phen plaintiffs were found in a civil suit to have misappropriated more than $64 million of their clients’ money. The judge who heard the suit has now entered final judgment against the lawyers, which will allow the plaintiffs to start collection proceedings in 30 days, barring appeal by the lawyers. (The good news: to appeal, they would need to put up an appeals bond, which would make it easier for the plaintiffs to collect. It’s not clear whether they’re going to appeal; they may be too busy defending themselves against the criminal charges which have been filed against them.)
The lawyers’ lawyer calls it a “travesty of justice,” and offers an unusual defense to charges of defrauding clients:
“No one, including the judge, has acknowledged that the attorneys’ fees were ordered by a judge or the fact that each and every client in the case received multiples, and I repeat multiples, of any amount that they would have received if they had not been represented by my clients — Bill and Shirley.”
Since the lawyers did a good job in achieving the initial settlement, it’s okay for them to defraud their clients of some of the money? Pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. (And of course, in claiming that the fees were “ordered by a judge,” she somehow neglects to mention the fact that the judge was paid off by the lawyers, and that as a result he quit just before he was going to be kicked off the bench.)
“The court finds that there is a serious risk that the funds will be moved offshore and that with these funds at their disposal, the defendants will flee to a country with which the United States has no extradition treaty or otherwise disappear,” U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman wrote in the Friday order sending Shirley Cunningham Jr., William Gallion, and Melbourne Mills Jr. to jail without bond until the January 7 trial date. (Jim Hannah, “Fen-phen lawyers are jailed”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 11). We have lots of coverage of the Kentucky fen-phen lawyers, who have been found in a civil case, to have misappropriated $62 million of settlement funds by overcharging on attorneys’ fees and other diversions. Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley, who has not been criminally indicted, is also civilly liable on part of his $20 million fee for helping to negotiate the settlement, with the scope of liability yet to be determined; trial has been delayed while the criminal trial is pending.
1. Yet another Roy Pearson update: the Washington Post, confirming a previous rumor, reports that he’s closer to losing his job. The Commission on Selection and Tenure of Administrative Law Judges (CSTALJ?) has voted to start the process of terminating him, by sending him a letter notifying him that he may not be reappointed to his job. Of course, the procedure alone makes the story a perfect fit for Overlawyered. Pearson can’t just be fired; that would be too easy. First, his boss had to make a formal recommendation. Then, the Commission had to decide to send that letter. And now?
Pearson is not out of work yet. The letter is a key step, though, alerting him that his reappointment is in jeopardy. He has 15 days to file a rebuttal and could push for reappointment by appearing before the commission at its next meeting in September.
The wonders of public employment. And then if he’s turned down, of course, he can sue!
Apparently trying to destroy a business by using the legal system to extort millions from the owners isn’t his big sin; his big sin is being rude to his boss:
Concerns about Pearson’s temperament as an administrative law judge preceded the publicity about the lawsuit this spring. The letter from the commission focuses on those concerns, addressing the lawsuit only briefly.
In e-mails sent to his fellow judges and cited in the letter, Pearson’s contempt for Chief Administrative Law Judge Tyrone T. Butler was evident. In one of the missives, he spoke of protecting himself from any attempt by Butler “to knife” him. In another, he questioned Butler’s competence and integrity.
Incidentally, he was serving a two year term, but if he wins reappointment, it will be for a ten year term.
Cooper said it was never easy to balance the interests of wildlife with those of national security. But in this case, she said, environmental lawyers have made a persuasive case that the potential harm to whales and other marine life outweighs any harm to the Navy while the court case proceeds.
Because, clearly, a bunch of lawyers are in the best position to design United States naval strategy.
3. Remember the Kentucky Fen-Phen scandal? The one in which the class action attorneys were accused of misplacing $60 million of their clients’ money into their own pockets? (We’ve covered it May 20 and earlier) Well, a federal judge has now ruled that they need to repay $62.1 million to their clients. So far. Still to come: a ruling on punitive damages, a criminal trial, and the suit against Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley, who’s accused of the same wrongdoing. (AP/Forbes)
- Curlin, the horse owned by fen-phen fraudsters Gallion and Cunningham, won the Preakness by a head. Curlin’s trainer is apparently ensconced in his own scandal, having served a six-month suspension for illegally drugging horses. (Andrew Beyer, “Making a Run for It”, Washington Post, May 20; Jennie Rees, “Curlin camp a crowded place”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 20).
- Stan Chesley did not even show up to the court-ordered May 16 mediation session, allegedly forcing a rescheduling until May 23. (Chesley’s attorney says he was in contact with his client at the hearing.) Plaintiffs have asked for sanctions. (Paul Long, “Mediation over lawyer fees fails”, Cincinnati Post, May 18).
- Barbara Bonar gets supporting testimony in her claims against Stan Chesley, but loses bench trial in case she brought over questionable settlement over Catholic church sex abuse. Bonar, the next president of the Kentucky Bar, will appeal. In the meantime, she faces trumped up ethics charges for representing class member opt-out settlements. (Andrew Wolfson, “Covington lawyer loses fee dispute case”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 12).
- Angela Ford, who is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of Kentucky fen-phen victims ripped off by their attorneys against their co-counsel, Stan Chesley, is now also facing what seems to me retaliatory political pressure; a Hamilton County, Ohio, judge, apparently unaware of deposition commissions, is complaining that she subpoenaed an Ohio witness without being licensed to practice law in that state. For some reason, a Kentucky judge, Stanley Billingsley, is testifying on behalf of Chesley. An American Home Products witness contradicted defendants’ claims that they “set aside” some settlement money for future Kentucky claimants (who, under the U.S. Supreme Court Amchem precedent, could not be bound by the settlement). And the parties are in mediation tomorrow and Thursday, which, judging by Chesley’s attorney’s complaints about press coverage, implies a confidential settlement is near. Next court hearing is May 31. (Shelly Whitehead, “Fen-phen suit heads to mediation”, Cincinnati Post, Apr. 24; Beth Musgrave and Jim Warren, “Lawyers meet Wednesday to try to reach deal on fen-phen millions”, Lexington Herald-Leader, May 14).
- Angela Ford herself has a website, which is not surprising, but it does include a remarkable resource of publicly-available court documents related to the Abbott v. Chesley case.
Prominent Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley said he wanted to file the Diocese of Covington priest-abuse case in Boone County because “we have a real friendly judge there,” a lawyer testified this week.
“He winked at me” and said “we need to file this in Boone County,” testified Covington lawyer Barbara Bonar, who is suing Chesley in a dispute over attorneys fees in the $84.5 million case.
“He said we already have hired a trial consultant, and he is real friendly with the judge,” Bonar said, describing a conversation she claimed to have had with Chesley in January 2003. “And he winked at me again.”
Chesley denies the allegations, but the fact remains that the Boone Circuit judge, Joseph Bamberger, of Kentucky fen-phen scandal fame, made an unprecedented ruling certifying a class action over priest abuse that forced the diocese into a $84.5 million settlement given that the church could not hope to defend itself against anonymous unnamed class members.
Bonar, who was briefly co-counsel for the class in the priest-abuse case, testified that Chesley’s partner Robert Steinberg told her in August 2003 that the Chesley firm had to turn down an early $3 million settlement offer from the diocese because it already had paid $400,000 in expenses to Modlin as a fee “to get the class certified.”
The diocese had sought Bamberger’s recusal. Modlin was also hired as a $2 million “trial consultant” in the fen-phen case, and went on to buy a house in Florida with Judge Bamberger. Chesley denies paying Modlin $400,000, and Bonar has her own motivation to fib, as she’s suing for a share of the Chesley fees from the class action, and claims she left the case only because of her fear of being involved in a fraud on the court. Bonar has already earned $2 million in fees out of the $4.7 million she settled for in individual cases outside the class action. Somewhere in here, a crime has been committed, whether it be bribery or perjury, but there’s work for a grand jury to be done. (Andrew Wolfson, “Lawyers clash in dispute over fees”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 10; see also Jeanne Houck, “Claims tangle diocese lawsuit”, Kentucky Post, Nov. 26, 2003).
Update: the Kentucky Bar Association is investigating. (Paul A. Long, “Bar: Probe attorneys’ conduct”, Cincinnati Post, May 10.)