Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

Excessive fines

Too bad the courts have decided to leave the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause on the shelf, it might otherwise be helpful to everyone from Virginia motorists to sexual harassment defendants (Ralph Reiland, “The ignored amendment”, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Aug. 27). More resources here, here, and here (noting Supreme Court’s ruling in Browning-Ferris that the clause restrains excessive fines only when payable to the government, not private parties).

August 10 roundup

Great moments in accountants’ liability

“An en banc Superior Court panel has ordered a new trial in a case in which a western Pennsylvania trial judge awarded $102.7 million in 2003 to one of the owners of a property company identified as being at the center of a mid-1980s Ponzi scheme.” Two couples, Thomas and Barbara Reilly and Edward and Karen Krall, each jointly owned half the stock in Canterbury Village Inc., a property development that was oversold in what was later described as a Ponzi scheme that bilked thousands of investors. When Canterbury Village landed in bankruptcy proceedings, an Ernst & Young predecessor was called in to organize the books, which were in great disarray. According to a judge’s footnote, “the male halves of Canterbury Village’s two couple-owners pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from the Ponzi scheme.” Mr. Reilly served about four years on fraud and tax evasion charges. The eventual reorganization plan approved by the court barred the Reillys and Kralls from any stake in the emerging business entity.

The Reillys then proceeded to sue Ernst & Young, alleging that its report had contained inaccuracies which had injured their business interests. When the Reillys filed requests for admissions in support of their allegations, Ernst first missed a deadline to respond and then, granted a do-over, omitted to include a required verification from its lawyer. The judge in response deemed Ernst to have agreed to all the requested admissions — in effect, preventing the firm from contesting the key elements of the Reillys’ case. A verdict was then entered on behalf of Barbara Reilly that “included $34 million for her ownership interest in Canterbury Village — half of the $68 million appraised value — plus an additional $50,945,222 in interest, based on a rate of 6 percent per annum beginning in 1986, for a total compensatory damage award of $84,018,989. Yeager also awarded her $18.17 million in punitive damages for a total verdict of $102,718,989.” The appeals panel has now decided, however, that loss (in effect) of its right to mount a substantive defense is too harsh a sanction for Ernst’s procedural fumblings, so a retrial is on its way. (Asher Hawkins, “Retrial Ordered in Nine-Figure Fraud Case”, Legal Intelligencer, Jul. 27; Karen Kane, “Seven Fields developer faults Ernst & Young in lawsuit”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 25, 2002).

Prosecutorial abuse “rarer than human rabies”?

So claims Joshua Marquis, vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, commenting on the Nifong-Duke lacrosse case. (Adam Liptak, “Prosecutor Becomes Prosecuted”, New York Times, Jun. 24). The reaction of Washington-based writer Carey Roberts: “Not by a long shot,” as witness a list with familiar names on it like Wenatchee, Wash. and the Scheck/Neufeld Innocence Project, as well as investigations by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Tribune, and more. (“The Nifong case – how rare?”, Washington Times, Jul. 29).

July 31 roundup

  • Can’t possibly be true: Tampa man sentenced to 25 years for possession of pills for which he had a legal prescription [Balko, Hit and Run]

  • Plaintiff’s lawyers “viewed [Sen. Fred Thompson] as someone we could work with” and gave to his campaigns, but they can’t be pleased by his kind words for Texas malpractice-suit curbs [Washington Post, Lattman; disclaimer]

  • Pace U. student arrested on hate crime charges after desecrating Koran stolen from college [Newsday; Volokh, more; Hitchens]

  • Little-used Rhode Island law allows married person to act as spouse’s attorney, which certainly has brought complications to the divorce of Daniel and Denise Chaput from Pawtucket [Providence Journal]

  • Lott v. Levitt defamation suit kinda-sorta settles, it looks like [Adler @ Volokh]

  • Trial lawyer Mikal Watts not bowling ’em over yet in expected challenge to Texas Sen. Cornyn [Rothenberg, Roll Call, sub-only via Lopez @ NRO]

  • Frankly collusive: after Minnesota car crash, parents arrange to have their injured son sue them for negligence [OnPoint News]

  • Canadian bar hot and bothered over Maclean’s cover story slamming profession’s ethics [Macleans blog]

  • Five Democratic candidates (Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Biden, Richardson) auditioned at the trial lawyers’ convention earlier this month in Chicago [NYSun]

  • Donald Boudreaux’s theory as to why Prohibition ended when it did [Pittsburgh Trib-Rev via Murray @ NRO]

  • Speaker of Alaska house discusses recent strengthening of that state’s longstanding loser-pays law [new at Point of Law]

Great moments in immigration law

Getting wide exposure on YouTube, and providing fodder for Lou Dobbs:

The video shows attorneys for Cohen & Grigsby, one of the largest law firms in Pittsburgh, explaining at a conference on immigration how to obey laws that require Americans be given top priority for jobs while still ensuring foreigners are hired.

“The goal here of course is to meet the requirements, number one, but also do so as inexpensively as possible, keeping in mind our goal. And our goal is clearly not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker,” Lawrence Lebowitz, the firm’s vice president of marketing, told the audience in May.

(“Pa. law firm’s immigration talk hits YouTube; U.S. senator demands investigation”, AP/Arizona Star, Jun. 23; Sister Toldjah; Doug Ross). More: Kim’s Play Place says the lawyers were serving their clients’ legitimate interests and that if they can arrange compliance with the letter of an irrational law there’s no reason for them to show allegiance to its claimed spirit. Further: Gina Passarella, “Immigration Law Seminar Generates Unwanted Publicity for Firm”, Legal Intelligencer, Jun. 25 (& welcome Opinionator readers).

Roundup – April 9

  • lawsuit suffers another setback. A court ruled today that the Pittsburgh-based lawyer-plaintiff can’t sue the Florida-based website in Pennsylvania. (Howard Bashman). The suit against the website is frivolous in any case; it is well-established that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes the website. (The suit against the posters, on the other hand, is a legitimate defamation claim.) Previously covered on Overlawyered: Jul. 2006, Jan. 2007.
  • In Easton, Pennsylvania, a police officer accidentally shoots and kills another police officer after cleaning his gun; now the widow is filing a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city, the mayor, city administrator, the police chief, the shooter, the head of the SWAT team of which the players were both members, a fellow officer who was standing nearby, and the retired former head of the SWAT team. I’m sure one of them has the money.
  • Philadelphia city councilwoman — and some tourism officials — wants to require licensing of city tour guides, including history tests, so that they don’t provide inaccurate history to tourists.
  • In 1999, a 19-year old college student named Richard Beers was killed while working construction over the summer. He had stopped the backhoe he was using on a hill, left the motor running, and walked behind it. It rolled down and ran him over. So his family blamed… Caterpillar, which had manufactured the backhoe, and sued for $25 million plus punitive damages. Last week, an Ohio jury found Caterpillar not liable — and it only took eight years (six years after the suit was filed) to resolve the matter.

Excessive force lawsuit

In August 2004, a security guard at a Pittsburgh restaurant roughed up Deven Werling, a patron who had insulted him. So Mr. Werling sued the restaurant, the security guard, and, of course… the city of Pittsburgh. It turns out that the security guard was actually a Pittsburgh police officer — an off-duty police officer — which made this assault a federal case. Now the city is paying $200,000 as part of a settlement the defendants reached with Werling just before trial (Post-Gazette; WTAE). Apparently,even though the officer was off-duty, he was working security in his official police uniform, and that may have been sufficient to put taxpayers on the hook.

Before you start feeling too much sympathy for the innocent city that was dragged into this suit, though, check out this nugget:

The city’s Office of Municipal Investigations found that Sgt. Eggleton contradicted himself under oath, and he was fired.

In October, the dismissal was reduced to a five-day suspension by then-Operations Director Dennis Regan. Mr. Eggleton continues to work as a sergeant.

So excessive force and lying under oath = five-day suspension. That will be red meat for the next plaintiff’s lawyer who sues the city over police brutality.

Author: Penguin tagged my book as “black interest”

Many large bookstores carry sections devoted to works of African-American interest, and a number of book clubs and other specialized selling channels do a thriving business by specializing in black themes and authors. In October, however, Florida-based author Nadine Aldred, who writes under the pen name “Millennia Black“, filed a pro se lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against her publisher, Penguin Group, on the grounds that Penguin (she alleges) insisted on steering her work into black-interest channels although she would rather have been marketed as a general-interest author. On the Wrong Side of the Alligator has reprinted excerpts from the complaint (Jan. 6).

The estimation of whether a particular author’s work will sell better if marketed to a niche or to a more general audience is inescapably going to depend on case-by-case judgment (assuming that marketing dollars and available cues of cover design, etc. are limited and cannot be dispatched in both directions at once). It is not immediately apparent why Penguin would not have an interest in taking a path that maximized its author’s sales. Aldred’s suit asks $250 million. See also Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, “Why book industry sees the world split still by race”, Wall Street Journal/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 6.

P.S. Disclosure, for whatever it’s worth: Penguin was my publisher on my first book (The Litigation Explosion).

More: Charles E. Petit of Scrivener’s Error writes to say:

The real problem in this instance is not with Penguin. The real problem is an antitrust nightmare: the book distribution system, which is probably the paradigmatic example of “one man’s antitrust is another man’s economy of scale”–at least until you look into the financing and terms of doing business, which makes me ask “What economies of scale?” The _distributors_ are the ones who demand “pigeonholing” of books, and Penguin’s best defense will be to point out that books that are released _without_ a category tend to stay in distributors’ warehouses unshipped. In other words, “We had to put _some_ category on it as a business necessity, and this is the one that in our commercial judgment was the best fit.”

Condo developers sued

The sudden slamming of brakes on the housing boom seems to be coinciding with a rise in litigation against condominium developers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Most peculiar-sounding lawsuit mentioned: one against a Miami developer that has canceled an unbuilt 49-floor condo tower and, it says, has refunded prospective buyers’ deposits with interest. It’s still being sued by 58 buyers demanding the profits they expected to reap had the condos been built — though the plunging South Florida real estate market makes such profits sound, um, speculative at best. Maybe they should thank the developer for canceling. (Troy McMullen, “Condo buyers take developers to court over promises”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 11).