We earlier discussed the case of osteopath John King (who now calls himself Christopher Wallace Martin after surrendering his medical license in two states). We’ll state up front: King was apparently deservedly fired for incompetence, and that undoubtedly includes some legitimate cases of malpractice. (Indeed, our original note was how West Virginia’s Putnam County Hospital could have perhaps avoided hiring King had not liability concerns prevented his previous employers from communicating problems to the hospital.) Whether it’s asbestos, fen-phen, or an incompetent osteopath, however, the legal system creates incentives for attorneys and plaintiffs to fake cases and free-ride off of the legitimately injured. A YouTube video documents some curious inconsistencies (which, to be frank, are not entirely persuasive to me for all six plaintiffs in the video). The judge has responded to the video by barring both sides from further communications with the media. (Lawrence Messina, AP/Lexington Herald Leader, Aug. 1; Chris Dickerson, West Virginia Record, Aug. 1; Turkewitz blog). The West Virginia Record calls for a prosecutorial investigation.
- 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).
Updating a few of the earlier stories covered around here:
- Maybe it’s not so gay after all: Rebekah Rice, the California high school student who sued her school after they disciplined her for saying “That’s so gay,” has lost her lawsuit.
“All of us have probably felt at some time that we were unfairly punished by a callous teacher, or picked on and teased by boorish and uncaring bullies. Unfortunately, this is part of what teenagers endure in becoming adults,” the judge wrote in a 20-page ruling. “The law, with all its majesty and might, is simply too crude and imprecise an instrument to satisfactorily soothe deeply hurt feelings.”
Moreover, the judge picked up on the same irony we noted when we first covered the story:
“If the Rice family had not told everyone that Rebekah had been given a referral for saying ‘That’s so gay’ then no one else would have know it either, and she would not have been referred to as the ‘That’s so gay girl,'” the judge wrote.
(Update to the update: Matthew Heller has the opinion.)
- Contrary to what we had speculated, it appears that Pants Judge Roy Pearson still has a job and may continue to do so. According to an unnamed D.C. official, and exemplifying the attitude with which the tort reform movement is fighting, “I don’t think it’s appropriate not to reappoint someone just because they file a lawsuit. You can’t retaliate against someone for exercising their constitutional, First Amendment right to file a lawsuit to vindicate their rights.” (No, but you can retaliate against someone for filing a frivolous lawsuit.) Meanwhile, as a face-saving publicity stunt, the American Trial Lawyers Association filed an ethics complaint against Pearson; really, Pearson isn’t doing anything that ATLA doesn’t endorse in other situations.
- Remember Ted and Mary Roberts, the husband-and-wife team of San Antonio lawyers who hatched a blackmail scheme in which the wife had sex with married men and the husband threatened to sue them unless they paid him to keep quiet? (Ted’s been convicted; Mary is awaiting trial.) The bankruptcy trustee, acting on behalf of their estate, had sued the local San Antonio Express News for violating their privacy by reporting on their scheme; Howard Bashman reports that the Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the lawsuit by a lower court. So the newspaper won a complete legal victory — but truthfully reporting on a criminal scheme by prominent lawyers nevertheless must have cost them six figures’ worth of legal expenses.
- O.J. Simpson will not be suing the Kentucky steakhouse that wouldn’t serve him. His lawyer — the one who rushed to announce that O.J. was a victim and that the steakhouse “screwed with the wrong guy” — now tries to blame the owner for “using the episode for publicity.” (Originally, May 10.)
- The bogus Equal vs. Splenda unfair competition lawsuit (Mar. 8) over Splenda’s “Made From Sugar, So It Tastes Like Sugar” slogan settled on undisclosed terms, moments before a jury announced its verdict. Although we don’t know the terms of the settlement, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out the non-monetary part: just check whether Splenda changes its advertising.
- 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.)
Jeff Ruby was appalled when double-murderer OJ Simpson and a party of twelve sat down at his steakhouse the eve of the Kentucky Derby when a customer expressed giddiness about seeing the infamous celebrity. So Ruby announced to Simpson that he wasn’t welcome in the restaurant, and Simpson left, and Ruby got a standing ovation from the other customers for putting principle ahead of profits. Now Simpson’s attorney, Yale Galanter, is threatening to sue Ruby for racial discrimination; the Reverend Louis Coleman of the “Justice Resource Center” is picketing Ruby’s.
Ruby’s has a plausible defense that their action wasn’t based on race: a famous black athlete who didn’t murder two people, Michael Jordan, walked in five minutes after Simpson left and got a table. (Angie Fenton, “Get Buzzed: Jeff Ruby turned away O.J. Simpson”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 8; Angie Fenton, “O.J. went to neighboring restaurant after Ruby’s stop”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 9; Beth Campbell, AP/WaPo, May 9).
Update: Ruby explicitly denies the racial discrimination argument. (Courier-Journal, May 10).
- Whoops! Insurer’s lawyer backtracks and scrambles for cover after saying some Miami/Dade judges “are being paid off” [Daily Business Review; possibly related, scroll to mention of Miami near end]
- Climate’s different up there: Google and Wikipedia sued for libel in Canada over user-generated content [Rob Hyndman]
- Lawyers implicated in Ky. fen-phen scandal are owners of Curlin, horse that placed third in Kentucky Derby [Courier-Journal, Sun-Times, Sports Network, WSJ law blog]
- “As a lawyer, I hear stories about lawsuit abuse all the time,” but Judge Pearson’s pants suit takes the cake [Nasty Brutish & Short; also lively discussion at Digg]
- Ramps of gold: serial ADA-suit filers George Louie, David Gunther and others launch wave of sidewalk suits against Northern California towns [Contra Costa Times]
- $250 fine for releasing a balloon into the air in New Hampshire? Criminalizing nearly everything [National Law Journal; also Ayn Rand]
- Helpful, if scary: “12 Important U.S. Laws Every Blogger Needs To Know” [Aviva Directory]
- U.K. lawyers ordered to pay back tens of millions of pounds in excessive fees earned for representing sick miners [Times Online Apr. 16, Apr. 25, Apr. 10; Telegraph]
- Did Rosie O’Donnell come out for loser-pays on ABC’s “The View”? Someone please get a transcript [Bill Boushka]
- Japan doesn’t furnish us with much material, but here’s one about magicians suing TV broadcasters for revealing secrets behind coin tricks [Above the Law]
- Sensitivity vs. sensitivity: female drummers allowed to sue over their (culturally authentic) exclusion from ritual drumming at Native American powwow [five years ago on Overlawyered]
So wrote Boone Circuit Court Senior Judge William Wehr in a motion denying both Stan Chesley’s motion to dismiss a suit against him in the Kentucky fen-phen fee scandal. But, with plaintiffs’ summary judgment motion also denied, a jury will ultimately decide how much that “more” should be, and whether a fiduciary duty was broken. The same order denied a request by Melbourne Mills to reconsider the finding that a fiduciary duty was broken. Chesley’s attorneys state that he will pay back $7 million of his $20 million fee. (Jim Hannah, “Chesley made too much”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Apr. 5). Earlier: OL Mar. 26 and links therein. (Cross-posted at Point of Law.)
Hey, I just write the American.com column about the Kentucky fen-phen fraud, not the headlines. Earlier on Overlawyered: Mar. 26 and links therein. (Cross-posted at Point of Law.)
We’ve recently discussed the Kentucky fen-phen scandal, in which the plaintiffs’ lawyers are accused of stealing tens of millions of dollars from their clients; there’s another brewing scandal involving fen-phen lawyers in New York.
Napoli Kaiser Bern (now known as Napoli Bern) represented more than 5,000 plaintiffs who had opted out of the larger class action suit against manufacturer AHP; a whistleblower, or disgruntled ex-employee (take your pick) alleged that Napoli Bern manipulated the amounts of the settlement to be paid to each plaintiff — giving more to its own direct clients — so that Napoli could maximize its own profits at the expense of other law firms.
More important is the allegation that Napoli Bern lied to its clients (and to its own expert witness on ethics) in making them think that the amounts allocated to each plaintiff had been determined by AHP and reviewed by a special master appointed by the court; in fact, it appears that Napoli Bern may have decided unilaterally how much to offer each plaintiff. Yesterday, a New York state judge ruled that the allegations had sufficient merit to reopen the settlement and send the allegations against Napoli Bern to trial.
The stakes are high here; the total amount of this settlement — confidential, but reportedly at least a billion dollars — is not at issue, but the distribution of that money among the lawyers and plaintiffs is. As the judge noted, in theory the penalty could be as severe as requiring Napoli Bern to forfeit all fees earned in the case. (Isn’t mass tort litigation fun? Billions of dollars of Other People’s Money floating around, waiting for lawyers to figure out how to distribute it.)