Posts Tagged ‘lawyers making clients worse off’

For Maryland’s guest teachers, an expensive lesson in labor rights

The U.S. Department of Labor ruled in April that Prince George’s County, Maryland, in suburban Washington, had violated federal labor law by failing to reimburse immigrant teachers for visa application fees. It fined the schools $1.7 million and also ordered them to pay $4.2 million in back pay to 1,044 teachers, most of whom come from the Philippines. “If that finding stands, the system will be unable to renew any three-year visas for its foreign employees.” Many teachers are distraught about the prospect of losing their jobs and green cards, which could happen as early as next month; Charisse Cabrera “said she would rather keep her job than recoup the back pay, about $4,000 per teacher.” [Washington Post,]

Lawyers making clients worse off department: Nicholas White’s elevator ride

Nicholas White, trying to leave the McGraw-Hill Building in New York, was trapped in an elevator for 42 hours over a weekend. We’ll agree that under the principle of res ipsa loquitur, there’s liability, and even non-economic damages, to be had: there’s a duty not to let people get trapped in your elevators, to respond to an elevator alarm, and to notice the security cameras broadcasting video of the trapped individual. But, judging by the April 21 New Yorker coverage, it’s hard not to think White’s attorney’s litigation strategy hurt White far worse than his elevator experience:

He got a lawyer, and came to believe that returning to work might signal a degree of mental fitness detrimental to litigation. Instead, he spent eight weeks in Anguilla. Eventually, Business Week had to let him go. The lawsuit he filed, for twenty-five million dollars, against the building’s management and the elevator-maintenance company, took four years. They settled for an amount that White is not allowed to disclose, but he will not contest that it was a low number, hardly six figures. He never learned why the elevator stopped; there was talk of a power dip, but nothing definite. Meanwhile, White no longer had his job, which he’d held for fifteen years, and lost all contact with his former colleagues. He lost his apartment, spent all his money, and searched, mostly in vain, for paying work. He is currently unemployed.

Looking back on the experience now, with a peculiarly melancholic kind of bewilderment, he recognizes that he walked onto an elevator one night, with his life in one kind of shape, and emerged from it with his life in another. Still, he now sees that it wasn’t so much the elevator that changed him as his reaction to it. He has come to terms with the trauma of the experience but not with his decision to pursue a lawsuit instead of returning to work. If anything, it prolonged the entrapment. He won’t blame the elevator.

NB also that White never would’ve gotten in the elevator if not for anti-smoking laws requiring him to leave the building to have a cigarette, not that I’m suggesting anyone sue the city or the tobacco companies over that remote causation.

Damages: $0 settlement; Attorneys’ fees: $9.5 million

The lead plaintiff had claimed losses of $25 million, but settled for zero plus some corporate-governance changes that, as a Rutgers professor notes, probably would have happened anyway. But a settlement approved by a New Jersey federal judge in a shareholder suit against Schering-Plough awarded $9.5 million in attorneys’ fees, even applying a multiplier to lodestar hourly rates. [New Jersey Law Journal/; In re Schering-Plough Corp. Securities Litigation, Case No. 2:01cv829 (D.N.J.)] Paying for those fees: shareholders, who also paid for what were likely multi-million dollar defense costs of litigation. Judge Katharine Sweeney Hayden, when certifying a single class in 2003, rejected arguments that there was an inherent conflict between class members that had already sold their stock and class members who continued to hold stock; she was appointed by Clinton in 1997.

Model’s suit: You used the video you took of me

A 37-year-old Jane Doe (who claims to be the host of a national cable tv program) agreed to be videoed rolling around in a bed “looking excited” for $200 in November, and was disturbed to see the results on a YouTube advertising campaign with obviously dubbed orgasmic moans. The punchline in the ad (probably NSFW if your volume is on): “Jewelry works every time.” Or, as my feminist girlfriend grouses every time she sees a tv jewelry ad with far subtler implications, “Your wife is a whore who will only put out for shiny objects.” Cf. also this YouTube copyright violation from Family Guy (NSFW), soon to be taken down by Fox.

Through her attorney, Kevin Mulhearn, she’s sued Szul Jewelers for $5 million. Mulhearn claims there’s no release, which while implausible, may be true. If so, she has a point, though the ad damnum claim is ludicrous: and far more people are going to watch the supposedly image-damaging video now that Mulhearn has gone to the press. And, of course, she didn’t have to roll around on the bed in the first place. (One hopes that I’m not aiding and abetting a publicity stunt for the jeweler.) [Daily News; AP/New York Times]

October 25 roundup

  • Lawyer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving: better not call yourself Mothers Against Anything Else without our say-so [Phoenix New Times]
  • Ohio insurer agrees to refund $51 million in premiums, but it’s a mutual, so money’s more or less moving from customers’ left to right pockets — except for a big chunk payable to charity, and $16 million to you-know-who [Business First of Columbus; Grange Mutual Casualty]
  • Sources say Judge Pearson, of pants suit fame, isn’t getting reappointed to his D.C. administrative law judge post [WaPo]
  • Between tighter safety rules and rising liability costs, more British towns are having to do without Christmas light displays [Telegraph]
  • So strong are the incentives to settle class-action securities suits that only four have been tried to a verdict in past twelve years [WSJ law blog]. More: D&O Diary.
  • It’s so cute when a family’s small kids all max out at exactly the same $2,300 donation to a candidate, like when they dress in matching outfits or something [WaPo via Althouse]
  • Idea of website for potential injury plaintiffs [Oct. 19] deemed “incredibly stupid” [Turkewitz]
  • New at Point of Law: med-mal reports from Texas and Colorado; Lynne-Stewart-at-Hofstra wrap-up (more); immune to reason on vaccines; turning tax informants into bounty-hunters?; and much more;
  • $800,000 race-bias suit filed after restaurant declines to provide free extra lemons with water [Madison County Record]
  • Settling disabled-rights suit, biggest card banking network agrees to install voice-guidance systems on 30,000 ATMs to assist blind customers [NFB]
  • Think twice before publishing “ratings” of Pennsylvania judges [six years ago on Overlawyered]

More powerful than a locomotive. Less powerful than a lawyer?

Speaking of Good Samaritans: On January 2, New Yorker Wesley Autrey jumped off a subway platform in front of an oncoming train to rescue a man who had fallen onto the tracks. After a wave of good publicity, he signed a contract with an attorney, Diane Kleiman, to help him exploit his newfound celebrity.

Now… he’s suing that attorney, claiming that the contract he signed was unfair and asking that the court declare it void:

Autrey, a 50-year-old Bronx construction worker, says in court papers that the contract is “a one-sided agreement” he was induced to sign by “fraud” and that it gives the lion’s share of everything he earns to Kleiman and her business partner, Marco Antonio Esposito, operator of an entertainment production company.


Autrey’s lawsuit, filed Friday, says the contract gives Kleiman and Esposito exclusive rights to exploit his name and reputation and gives them ownership of intellectual property rights to his story.

The contract also gives Kleiman and Esposito the right to receive all gross receipts from commercial exploitation of Autrey’s name and to keep half those receipts, whether or not they helped generate the money, court papers say.

Whether the contract is fair or not, I can’t say; Autrey claiming he signed it without reading it certainly doesn’t win him any sympathy points with me.

Read On…