As one of our reader/informants sums up this litigation against a Kentucky surgeon filed by (and backfiring against) a Tennessee attorney: “Plaintiff lawyer (who is a JD/MD) gets sued by both his plaintiff client and the defendant doctor and he loses to both.” (Andrew Wolfson, “Attorney is loser in malpractice lawsuit”, Louisville Courier-Journal, Nov. 28; Childs, Dec. 27). More on countersuits by doctors: Point of Law, Dec. 20.
Two noteworthy stories in the Mississippi press: Anita Lee of the Biloxi Sun-Herald takes a look at “Dickie Scruggs’ $50 million man: What did P.L. Blake do to earn all that money?” (Dec. 16; some earlier Blake discussion).
Blake will earn $50 million, court records show, for clipping newspaper articles and alerting Scruggs to maneuvering in political “cloakrooms,” as Scruggs put it, from Mississippi to Washington. …
Accounts of how Blake earned the money are vague and contradictory.
Even more surprising, Blake and Scruggs were unable to say whether they sealed their business agreement with a handshake or in writing.
A few points brought out in the article: “Scruggs said Tom Anderson, who then worked in Lott’s office, referred Blake to Scruggs.” Attorney General Mike Moore, nominally Scruggs’s public client after hiring him to advance the state’s interests in the tobacco litigation, was aware that Blake was being paid, though he professes surprise at how much. And Scruggs routed the $10 million in initial tobacco payments to Blake through attorney Joey Langston as intermediary. (more discussion)
The assignment of steady continuing payments to Blake over the life of the tobacco settlement distinctly resembles a gesture toward diverting a share of the tobacco proceeds (a contingency share, as it were) to reward and incentivize Blake, or perhaps Blake-and-others-too, to work for the success of the deal. [corrected 12:24 on proofreading after posting; I mistakenly used a wrong surname in place of “Blake” here and below.]
If reporters or others at some point succeed in reaching and questioning Blake, who is said to have moved to Alabama, presumably one of the questions worth asking him will be: is he really the final recipient and ultimate beneficiary of all that impressive cash flow — declaring it on his income tax, having all the funds available for his personal use, and so forth — or does he pass/has he passed some of the money along to anyone else? If he keeps it all, it’s no wonder the questions will keep re-echoing about whether his services could really have been worth that much. If it turns out he is passing/has passed some of it along to another actor or actors, why would things have been arranged that way? One possibility — though not the only one, of course — is that such further beneficiary or beneficiaries might not wish to be known publicly as holding a share in the payouts of the great tobacco project. (Update: a Monday article by Anita Lee in the Sun-Herald (“Blake’s information ‘right-on'”, Dec. 17) quotes Moore saying that Blake seemed to have accurate intelligence in what was going on in tobacco-industry and Republican circles.)
The other noteworthy story is by Jerry Mitchell in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger (“Feds probe Hinds case under scrutiny”, Dec. 16). It confirms that one of the “bodies buried” that Balducci told federal agents about relates to the Luckey/Wilson asbestos fee matter, which was eventually split into two legal proceedings, both hard-fought, with Luckey faring better than Wilson in the legal battle against Scruggs. In addition, the search warrant for the Langston law firm sought documents relating to the Wilson case “as well as documents regarding payments to Jackson lawyer Ed Peters, who played no known role in the case. In 2001, Peters retired as Hinds County district attorney.”
An active comment thread at Lotus/folo includes additional information about Peters, among other topics, and also passes along details about some of non-wannabe Timothy Balducci’s past involvements in high-stakes litigation, from his own promotional material. A sampling:
In 2006, Tim was Lead Counsel in Mississippi’s successful prosecution of securities fraud claims against Citigroup in Federal District Court in New York. His success in representing the state in so many complex litigations was a major factor which contributed to his selection by the Commonwealth of Kentucky to prosecute an action on its behalf to recover over $1 Billion dollars in government funds from a major chemical manufacturer. Also, the United States District Court in Charleston, South Carolina, selected Tim to serve on the National Leadership Committee for the ReNu contact lens solution litigation against Bausch & Lomb.
Notes a commenter: “it’s amazing how much lawyering these tiny law firms seem to get done. It’s just as amazing that he gets it done with *no reported decisions.* Pretty strange.”
Yes, it seems there were wiretaps. Defendants will be seeing evidence from the prosecution momentarily which might (or might not) be the trigger for further flipping and early plea deals, if such there will be.
There is enormous curiosity (e.g.) about P.L. Blake, to whom Scruggs says he paid $10 million (and tens of millions more in future payments) for vaguely described intelligence services aimed at swaying political influentials during the tobacco caper. Per a 1997 account posted at Y’All Politics, “Blake pleaded ‘no contest’ in 1988 to a federal charge that he conspired to bribe officials of the now-defunct Mississippi Bank to secure favorable loan terms.” The same article, citing reporting in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, reports that Blake was in close phone contact between 1994 and 1996 with eventually-disgraced state Auditor Steve Patterson, who after leaving office went into partnership with Timothy Balducci and is one of the five indicted in the current Scruggs affair. Per AP, “Patterson was a banker at Mississippi Bank before his 1984-1987 tenure as head of the Mississippi Democratic Party.”
David Rossmiller, as so often, is out front with a report filling in background on two other controversies involving Blake. One arose from a venture into the grain storage business which landed him in a Texas dispute in which his attorney was none other than Fred Thompson, later a Tennessee senator and presidential candidate. The other arose from his cordial dealings with a former chief of staff to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi).
Harper’s blogger Scott Horton has now published his take, as is his wont heavily dependent on hush-hush (but no doubt wholly trustworthy) confidential sources who float all sorts of theories about scoundrelly doings by the highly placed. He winds up with a theory that would pull Sen. Lott into it (though with no allegation of criminality) by way of the Acker contempt matter, as distinct from either the Balducci/Lackey bribery attempt or, say, the Paul Minor affair. Of Horton’s many anonymously sourced speculations, the one that caught my eye was tucked into a footnote: “A law enforcement official I interviewed, who for professional reasons asked to remain anonymous, told me that Scruggs’s junior partner Sidney Backstrom might take the same road as Balducci.” Now that is
news a rumor (more). (Update Tues. evening: Backstrom’s attorney Frank Trapp flatly denies that anything of the sort is in the works: Patsy R. Brumfield, “Backstrom firm on innocence, his attorney says”, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Dec. 12.)
This is probably a good place to apprise readers who aren’t aware of it that 25-odd years ago, while first gaining a footing in the policy world, I worked briefly on Capitol Hill drafting research papers for a committee then headed by Mr. Lott. We only talked a couple of times, I had never set foot in the state of Mississippi at the time, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t recognize me on the street, but if you’re a conspiracy theorist about such matters, there you have it.
At Y’All Politics, commenter “lawdoctor1960” has some speculation as to why the remarkable deposition of Scruggs in the Luckey case didn’t get more media or political attention at the time.
Attorney Tim Balducci’s role as deputized lawyer for the state of Mississippi in the MCI and Zyprexa cases is drawing public scrutiny, and may result in pressure for reform of AG outside contracting.
We’ve started a new “Scandals” category for readers who want quick access to coverage of the Mississippi mess, also stocked with some earlier links to coverage of such earlier blow-ups as Milberg Weiss/Lerach, Kentucky fen-phen, the Paul Minor affair, etc. For those who are following Scruggs posts in sequence, be aware that yesterday’s first and second posts fell outside the numbering scheme.
In both of which cases the hospital is being targeted for blame:
About a year ago, Linda Long was attending the East London Holiness Church in London, Ky. That’s one of a handful of churches in the country that practice snake handling, which is exactly what it sounds like it is — congregation members handle venomous snakes in the belief that the faithful will not be harmed.
Long was bitten in the cheek by a rattlesnake and died — and now her family is suing the hospital where she was brought for treatment.
In a suit filed earlier this month, Long’s family alleges employees of a London, Ky. hospital ridiculed Long when she was brought there after the attack and failed to treat her in a timely manner. She later was airlifted to the University of Kentucky Medical Center, where she died.
Meanwhile, in Britain, Anthony Gough, 24, says he is considering legal action in the death of his wife, Emma, following the birth of twins at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. The Goughs are members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect which opposes blood transfusions on religious grounds and Emma had refused such a transfusion; doctors had in vain urged Gough to override his wife’s wishes. Gough says a machine would have permitted self-transfusion of his wife’s blood but that hospital staff did not know how to use it. (Andrew Parker, “Jehovah hubby: I blame doctors”, The Sun (U.K.), Nov. 7)
- 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.
I’m going to have much much more to say about this case, but for now, let us simply note that a jury found for the plaintiff in a lawsuit against McDonald’s over her victimization by a perverted prank phone call, and awarded $6.1 million; we mentioned the incident in the comments to this lengthy September 2006 discussion of a similar lawsuit that was thrown out of court, and first noted the potential for litigation in April 2004, days before the actual incident took place in this suit.
What the press coverage to date has not mentioned is that the person who almost certainly perpetrated the incident was acquitted after the Kentucky case fell apart because the criminal defense attorney was able to impeach the witnesses by noting their financial stakes in the civil litigation decided today. Thus, thanks to our civil litigation system’s quest for the deep pocket, the guilty party went free and a tertiary innocent victim got hit with damages. Which is precisely why it’s a misnomer when trial lawyers rename themselves associations for “justice.”
- L.A. city council debating settlement of Tennie Pierce (firehouse dog food prank) case, apparently for several million [AP/Mercury-News; earlier]
- Lerach said to accept jail term of 2 years or less in plea deal, won’t testify against former partners [Washington Post, Point of Law; earlier]
- No shock, Sherlock: divorce cases said to have the highest rate of perjury in open court [Oregonian via WSJ law blog]
- Things you might not have known about the Duke/Nifong case unless you’ve read the new Stuart Taylor/K.C. Johnson book [Leo, Minding the Campus; Thernstrom]
- Take a wild guess as to one reason doctors are reluctant to communicate with their patients via email, despite the many potential advantages [Medical Economics via KevinMD]
- Latest suit charging casino should have recognized customer’s gambling addiction [Indianapolis Star; earlier]
- One brother kills the other in anger in the North Carolina woods, both members of a logging crew; ruled compensable under workers’ comp [Coppelman]
- My client, the dog: another trend piece on steady expansion of animal law [Boston Globe]
- Prankster gets American U. alumni mag to print erroneous report of two classmates as being gay. Defamatory? [New York Post, Smoking Gun; Julie Hilden a while back]
- Trial begins in Kentucky of civil suit arising from the string of McDonald’s strip-search hoaxes Ted wrote about last year [OnPoint News, Louisville C-J/USA Today]
- Woman who nearly froze to death after a night of drinking sues city, emergency personnel and taxi driver who dropped her at home [five years ago on Overlawyered]
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.