- Bloodstain analysis convinced a jury Julie Rea killed her 10-year-old son. It took four years for her to be acquitted on retrial, and another four to be exonerated. Has anything been learned? [Pamela Colloff, ProPublica] Forensics’ alternative-facts problem [Radley Balko] The chemists and the coverup: inside the Massachusetts drug lab scandal [Shawn Musgrave, Reason, earlier here, here, here, etc.]
- “I would say, you know, as a parting gift, if you’d like to throw in some iPhones every year, we would be super jazzed about that…. So, you know, a hundred, 200 a year.” A window on the unusual business of prison-phone service [Ben Conarck, Florida Times-Union, state Department of Corrections]
- Should juries be forbidden to hear any evidence or argument about their power of conscientious acquittal? [Jay Schweikert on Cato amicus in case of U.S. v. Manzano, Second Circuit; related, David Boaz on 1960s-era jury nullification of sodomy charges]
- This hardly ever happens: prosecutor disbarred for misconduct [Matt Sledge, Baton Rouge Advocate; Louisiana high court revokes license of Sal Perricone following anonymous-commenting scandal]
- “Cultural impact assessments”: Canadian courts weighing whether race should play role in sentencing minority offenders [Dakshana Bascaramurty, Globe and Mail]
- “The Threat of Creeping Overcriminalization” [Cato Daily Podcast with Shon Hopwood and Caleb Brown] “Tammie Hedges and the Overcriminalization of America” [James Copland and Rafael Mangual, National Review]
- Judge orders Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to take CLE lessons as sanction for disclosure and discovery missteps [Lowering the Bar, Jonathan Adler]
- In 7-2 decisions, Supreme Court of Canada finds it “proportionate and reasonable” limitation on religious liberty for Ontario and British Columbia to refuse rights of legal practice to grads of conservative Christian law school which requires students to agree to refrain from sex outside heterosexual marriage [Kathleen Harris, CBC, Caron/TaxProf, Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada, Jonathan Kay/Quillette, earlier on Trinity Western]
- “Gratiot County, Mich. officials foreclose on 35-acre parcel worth $100k over unpaid $2k tax debt. They sell the property for $42k and keep $2k to cover the tax bill—and keep the other $40k as well. District court: ‘In some legal precincts that sort of behavior is called theft.’ Motion to dismiss denied.” [John Kenneth Ross, “Short Circuit” on Freed v. Thomas, United States District Court, E.D. Michigan]
- UK: “Obese people should be allowed to turn up for work an hour later, government adviser recommends” [Martin Bagot, Mirror]
- “Law Schools Need a New Governance Model” [Mark Pulliam, and thanks for mention]
- “Until 1950, U.S. Weathermen Were Forbidden From Talking About Tornados” [Cara Giaimo, Atlas Obscura]
Believe it or not, the case of Judge Roy Pearson and his lost pants, widely covered here and at many other outlets ten years ago, continues to drag on in peripheral legal proceedings. “Disciplinary Counsel began this investigation eleven years and one name change ago,” declares the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility in an opinion rejecting a lesser sanction and ordering a 90-day suspension for the former administrative law judge, who had “sued his dry cleaners for $67 million for allegedly losing his pants.” The court said that although the definition of frivolous litigation in Washington, D.C. practice was so strict that few lawsuits went over the line, Pearson’s did. He had also unreasonably delayed and multiplied proceedings in the disciplinary case itself. [Mike Frisch, Legal Profession Blog; ABA Journal] “Throughout the proceedings,” the board said, Pearson “failed to conduct an objective appraisal of the legal merits of his position. He made, and continues to make, arguments that no reasonable attorney would think had even a faint hope of success on the legal merits.”
Arbitration was on several senators’ minds, although it isn’t among the topics of the four bills considered. [John O’Brien, Legal NewsLine] This from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was passing strange, though:
“Now I know that there are bad actors out there – those who file frivolous lawsuits against hard-working and honest businesspeople – but these bills aren’t the solution,” Franken said.
“They don’t help weed out frivolous claims early on. They seek to deter meritorious claims by making class action suits so expensive, lengthy and onerous that people won’t bother to bring them in the first place.
Among the four bills before the committee was the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, intended to reinvigorate federal Rule 11 sanctions, and described as follows:
It would make sanctions mandatory against attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits. Currently, judges have discretion on whether to impose sanctions.
Plaintiffs also have a 21-day safe harbor in which they can withdraw their claims after a motion for sanctions has been filed.
It is hard to know how to describe LARA’s intent as anything other than to deter the filing and pursuit of meritless claims, thus “weed[ing them] out… early on.”
- “Law Professors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law”: The Economist favorably reviews new Stephen Presser book;
- Profile of Texas Supreme Court notes that its members regularly face opposition at election time from alliance of plaintiffs’ bar with some social conservatives [Mark Pulliam]
- 10 lawyers, 6 others charged in alleged workers’ comp fraud scheme targeting Latinos in California [Associated Press]
- Employee’s ADA case against Novartis backfires, court orders her to pay nearly $2 million; her attorney quit case after discrepancies in her background were discovered [Kathleen O’Brien, NJ.com]
- To protect the children, feds ban a product one of whose functions is to keep drugs out of hands of children [Christian Britschgi, Reason]
- Budget choices and trade-offs faced by advocacy groups don’t give them constitutionally required standing to sue [Daniel E. Jones and Archis Parasharami, WLF]
I’ve got a post at Cato at Liberty catching up on House action on litigation reform bills — see last week — and comparing it in particular to the recommendations of the chapter on tort and class action law (of which I was one author) in the new 8th edition Cato Handbook for Policymakers. As I note, two measures (on sanctions and class actions) track recommendations Cato scholars have been making for years, while a third (on medical liability] has been scaled back in a way that at least nods to concerns I and others have expressed.
The last few paragraphs of the piece follow:
Finally, there has been a development worth noting on H.R. 1215, the Protecting Access To Care Act, which passed committee by an 18-17 vote on Feb. 28. I and others have repeatedly criticized federal medical liability bills on the grounds that they run into serious problems of federalism and enumerated powers, seeking to justify federal involvement by way of loose New Deal doctrines of impact on interstate commerce, and overriding the workings of state courts even as to the large mass of medical malpractice disputes in which both parties to the lawsuit are local to the state and the costs of error are apt to be local as well. As I argued in this space:
That doesn’t mean federal policymakers are to be left with no role at all. For example, if Washington is paying for a large share of hospital stays, it may make sense as a cost containment measure for it to steer beneficiaries into lower-cost ways of resolving disputes over care quality, or even to ask beneficiaries as a condition of treatment to agree not to file certain suits at all. But that would require stepping back toward a more careful—and more Constitutionally appropriate—view of the federal role.
Unlike past iterations, this bill only applies to claims concerning the provision of goods or services for which coverage is provided in whole or in part via a Federal program, subsidy, or tax benefit, giving it a clear federal nexus. Wherever federal policy affects the distribution of health care, there is a clear federal interest in reducing the costs of such federal policies.
Whether the provision in question is drafted in such a way as to pass federalist muster is a question for another day — but it does at least seem that someone on Capitol Hill may have been listening to our past critiques.
With both Congress and White House now in Republican hands, the U.S. House of Representatives is moving with dispatch to consider a series of litigation reform measures, some stalled for years by Democratic opposition and others of relatively recent vintage. Bruce Kaufman at BNA Bloomberg has a three-part series (first, second, third) followed by an update today on the looming battle over the six main bills:
- The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (H.R. 720) “requires judges to impose mandatory sanctions on attorneys who file ‘meritless’ civil cases in federal courts.”
- The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act (H.R. 985) which “affects nearly all facets of class action practice” and in particular “class certification requirements, capping or delaying distribution of fees to class counsel, requiring the disclosure of litigation financing, and tying the reporting of settlement data to plaintiffs’ lawyers’ fees.” [More: various academic opponents weigh in here, Andrew Trask defends provisions of the bill here and here, and see earlier]
- The Innocent Party Protection Act (H.R. 725) “targets what is known as fraudulent joinder—the improper addition of [local] defendants to suits in a bid to keep cases in more plaintiff-friendly state courts.”
- The Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act (H.R. 906) “mandates increased reporting of payments to plaintiffs by trusts that pay out asbestos exposure claims against bankrupt companies,” in hopes of preventing undisclosed duplicative collection of damages over the same injury.
- The Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act (H.R. 732) which “seeks to bar the Department of Justice from entering into settlements that steer funds to favored third-party groups.”
- The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act (H.R. 469) Goes after what have been called “sue-and-settle” processes at EPA in which the agency reaches concessionary terms with ostensibly adverse litigants who seek to expand its authority.
Trial lawyers and allies in the Litigation Lobby aren’t standing idly by: “opponents hope to gum up the works.” Even if many bills clear House passage, getting to 60 votes in the Senate in the face of filibuster threats could prove difficult, despite the departure of perennial trial lawyer ally Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and the views of President Trump are not entirely clear. More: Washington Examiner editorial on class action measures.
- Uphill battle in Congress for bill to “prohibit federal courts from issuing awards that consider the victim’s race or gender, among other demographic variables” [Kim Soffen, Washington Post on “Fair Calculations Act”]
- Normalizing champerty, the Ann Arbor way: University of Michigan endowment to take stake in litigation finance fund [Janet Lorin, Bloomberg News]
- Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA), restoring sanctions for groundless litigation, cleared House committee vote last month [@HouseJudiciary]
- “Lynch’s Doubling of False Claims Act Fines Could Be Bonanza for Trial Lawyers” [Joe Schoffstall, Washington Free Beacon]
- “Katrina victims shocked by small payments in levee failure case they ‘won’ – $118 each, on average” [David Hammer, WWL-TV]
- Advisory Committee on Civil Rules considers revising Rule 23 on class actions [Washington Legal Foundation comments]
In the old days, when lawyers representing the U.S. Department of Justice were found to have lied, an Attorney General might have ended their service. We’re not in the old days any more [Michael Greve] As related in an earlier post, Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas federal court, after concluding that federal lawyers had chosen to hide relevant facts in litigation challenging President Obama’s DAPA immigration initiative, ordered them to take ethics classes in a scathing opinion; his order has variously been criticized for possibly exceeding his jurisdiction, and for being insufficiently stringent to deter future misconduct by the Department’s lawyers.
A federal judge has handed down one of the most spectacular rebukes in memory to the courtroom conduct of the U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ], for hiding the ball in a challenge to the administration’s DAPA immigration initiative. Writes Ilya Shapiro:
[Judge] Hanen’s remedy consists of five components:
(1) all the lawyers at DOJ headquarters who litigate in the 26 states that challenged DAPA (most of them) have to go back to school for an annual ethics course taught by an outside expert;
(2) DOJ has to certify annually for five years that these lawyers are indeed going to school;
(3) the attorney general must report within 60 days “a comprehensive plan to prevent this unethical conduct from ever occurring again,” and “what steps she is taking to ensure that . . . the Justice Department trial lawyers tell the truth — the entire truth.”; …
Declaring that the lawyers had acted in “bad faith” and that their “conduct is certainly not worthy of any department whose name includes the word ‘Justice,'” Hanen added: “The court does not have the power to disbar the counsel in this case, but it does have the power to revoke the pro hac vice status of out-of-state lawyers who act unethically in court.” [Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner; Josh Blackman, NRO] But see: Orin Kerr asks whether the order exceeds the court’s jurisdiction.