Major tobacco companies have gotten one of those letters from the Federal Ministry of Finance in Lagos, Nigeria, proposing a gigantic and unlikely transfer of funds. Problem is, this time it’s authentic. Hans Bader has details (Nov. 7). Similar, earlier suits by foreign governments: Nov. 16, 2000 (Saudi Arabia); Feb. 1-3, 2002 (others).
Whether or not you reside in the U.K., the range of reading material available to you regarding the tangled banking relationships of the Middle East is being shaped and constrained by the London libel courts. (Gary Shapiro, “Libel Suit Leads to Destruction of Books”, New York Sun, Aug. 2; Mark Steyn, “The vanishing jihad exposés”, syndicated/Orange County Register, Aug. 5; earlier here and here).
That prospective lawsuit by the very needy and deserving plaintiff, the government of Saudi Arabia, against international tobacco companies, discussed in this space Nov. 16, 2000 and Dec. 10, 2001, is apparently on again. (“Saudis threaten to sue tobacco companies”, Reuters/GulfNews, Nov. 30). Hans Bader at CEI’s Open Market (Dec. 1) deplores the action, but seems to imagine that 1) it might make more sense for American victims of 9/11 to sue the Saudis and that 2) this isn’t happening already (see Jul. 11, 2003, Sept. 26 and Nov. 6, 2004, and Oct. 12, 2005).
Civil libertarians take a stand in Britain: by single-vote margins, the House of Commons has surprisingly voted to water down significantly the bill introduced by the Blair government to attach legal penalties to various types of speech critical of religion. In particular, the bill “was stripped of measures to outlaw ‘abusive and insulting’ language and behaviour as well as the crime of ‘recklessness’ in actions that incite religious hatred.” Earlier, the House of Lords had heeded protests from free-speech advocates including comedian Rowan Atkinson by lending its support to amendments to the bill. “In a humiliating blow to Mr Blair, who has a 65-seat Commons majority, 21 Labour rebels voted with Opposition MPs while at least 40 more were absent or abstained.” (David Charter, “Religious hate Bill lost after Blair fails to vote”, The Times, Feb. 1; Greg Hurst and David Charter, “Racial hatred Bill threatens our civil liberties, say rebels”, Feb. 1; Greg Hurst and Ruth Gledhill , “How comic’s supporters kept their heads down and used their cunning”, Feb. 2). Earlier coverage: Jul. 16, 2004; Jun. 11, Jun. 27, Aug. 17, Oct. 19, and Oct. 29, 2005.
The Blair government’s primary motivation for the bill is considered to be to cater to the sensitivities of British Muslims, and many commentators (such as Charles Moore) make the obvious connection with the situation in Denmark (see Feb. 1). Meanwhile, violent threats continue against Danes, cartoonists, and liberal-minded Europeans generally. And some 500 lawyers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, are supporting a project “to take legal action against” those who insult or demean the founder of their religion with one goal being “to enact laws that would incriminate abuse of religions and prophets in all countries,” as a spokesman puts it. (P.K. Abdul Ghafour & Abdul Maqsood Mirza, “Lawyers Vow Legal Action in Cartoons Row”, Arab News, Feb. 4). Michelle Malkin has much, much more (plus this).
“To the extent that its 9/11 attacks were designed to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and shake the Saudi regime, Al-Qaeda succeeded beyond it wildest dreams. … [The Saudi establishment] finds itself under siege not only by Western journalists and politicians, but also by the American plaintiffs’ bar, in the form of a civil lawsuit filed by 17 law firms from seven states in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, demanding $116 trillion in damages on behalf of over 3,000 9/11 victims and their families.” Christopher H. Johnson of Artur & Hadden, co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Middle East Committee, offers a critique of the litigation (“Terrorism as Mass Tort: Responsibility for 9/11”, Saudi-American Forum, Essay Series #3). See Sept. 26 and links from there.
Even though the 9/11 commission (debunking certain widely circulated stories to the contrary) concluded that the government of Saudi Arabia did not fund al-Qaeda, several institutional victims of the terrorist attacks, including Cantor Fitzgerald Securities and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, recently filed suit against a long list of foreign entities including the Saudi government and various financial institutions for their alleged role in the attacks (Larry Neumeister, “Port Authority to Join Suit Against Saudi Arabia Over 9/11 Attack”, AP/Law.com, Sept. 13). The U.S. government has been highly critical of the freelance use of private litigation to second-guess the state of U.S.-Saudi relations, which has in no way deterred colorful asbestos-tobacco zillionaire Ron Motley from setting up his own mini-CIA-cum-State-Department-for-profit toward that end (Jennifer Senior, “Intruders in the House of Saud, Part II: A Nation Unto Himself”, New York Times Magazine, Mar. 14)(see Jul. 11, 2003). And in the New York Observer, Nina Burleigh in February profiled attorney Brian Alexander of the prominent plaintiff’s air-crash firm of Kreindler & Kreindler, who had “already filed a suit — on behalf of the families of more than 1,000 9/11 families?against a list of foreign entities hundreds of pages long.” (“Air Disasters, Legal Fees And Justice for the Victims”, New York Observer, Feb. 23).
“Say what you like about Osama bin Laden. He’s done wonders for the defamation bar,” says a British barrister. A group of wealthy Saudi businessmen are engaging in “libel tourism,” suing in British courts to silence American critics. British libel law, unburdened by the First Amendment, puts the burden on defendants to prove that their stories are true; the threat of libel suits often acts to deter journalistic inquiries, but now suits are being aimed at American publishers. The Wall Street Journal faces two lawsuits for a February 2002 report on Saudi support for terror that was reprinted in its European edition. (Michael Isikoff & Mark Hosenball, “Libel Tourism”, Newsweek Web, Oct. 22). (via Postrel)
Profile of bigshot tort lawyer Ron (“U.S. foreign policy, c’est moi”) Motley, who after ultra-successful runs in asbestos and tobacco and a far less successful run against lead paint manufacturers has embarked on a crusade to sue various rich Saudi Arabians over Sept. 11 because they allegedly had paid off bin Laden over the years, whether from sympathy, fear or other motives. The State Department has repeatedly complained that the suit (with its demands for compulsory discovery of foreign nationals, etc.) threatens to upset the delicate management of U.S.-Saudi relations, but who (aside from the U.S. Constitution) says the executive branch should get to run foreign relations anyway? Quotes our editor (Tony Bartelme, “The King of Torts vs. al-Quaida [sic] Inc., Charleston Post & Courier, Jun. 22). Newsiest nugget to us: according to the article, Motley has hired full time to work on the case a well-connected Washington lawyer named Harry Huge; this is pretty rich once you consider something not spelled out in the article, which is that Huge served on most if not all of the arbitration panels that awarded the Ness Motley firm vast fortunes in the state tobacco litigation. What could be more ingenuous and conflict-of-interest-free than for Motley to turn around and give him a job?
Florida class action (Engle), 2003: “A $710 million loose end“, Jun. 24; ““Trial lawyers get spanked’“, May 24-26; “Court overturns $145 billion Engle award“, May 22-23. 2001: “Angles on Engle“, May 24. 2000: “‘Not even thinking about’ fees“, Aug. 11-13; “Smoking and responsibility: columnists weigh in“, Jul. 28-30; “‘Poll: majority disapprove of tobacco fine’“, Jul. 24-25; “Florida verdict: more editorial reaction“, Jul. 24-25; “Smoking and responsibility: columnists weigh in“, Jul. 28-30; Editorial roundup“, Jul. 19-20; “Florida tobacco verdict“, July 18; “Tobacco: why stop at net worth?” (punitive damage rulings by judge), Jul. 10; “Another Mr. Civility nominee” (Stanley Rosenblatt), Jun. 2-4. 1999: “$49 million lawyers’ fee okayed in case where clients got nothing” (secondhand smoke class action), Sept. 28; “Personal responsibility takes a vacation in Miami“, Jul. 8; “The Florida tobacco jurors: anything but typical“, Wall Street Journal, Jul. 12, 1999.
Tobacco fees reconsidered, 2003: “Senate panel nixes tobacco-fee clawback“, May 9-11; “Feds indict former Texas AG“, Mar. 8-9; “‘Not a pretty picture’“, Jan. 10-12. 2002: “Judge overturns $1.3 billion tobacco fee award” (Castano Group), Sept. 27-29; “Welcome Fox News viewers/ readers“, Aug. 2-4; “Tobacco fees: one brave judge” (New York), Jul. 30-31 (& Aug. 2-4, Jun. 21-23, Oct. 16-17, Oct. 25-27, 2002; Feb. 11 & Jun. 6-8, 2003; May 11, 2001).
“‘Lawyers who won $10 bil. verdict had donated to judge’“, Apr. 30, 2003; “A bond too far“, Apr. 4-6; “Appeals bonds, again“, Apr. 2-3; “Mad County pays out again” (“light” cigarette class action), Mar. 24, 2003.
“‘Nanny Bloomberg’” (NYC smoking ban), Oct. 22, 2002.
Tobacco fees, state by state, 2003: “‘Law firms in tobacco suit seek $1.2b more’” (Mass.), May 19 (& Jan. 2-3, 2002, Dec. 22, 1999); “Feds indict former Texas AG“, Mar. 8-9 (& May 22, Sept. 1-3, 2000; Jun. 21, Aug. 29-30, Nov. 12, 2001, Jul. 15, Jul. 30-31, 2002; Jan. 10-12, 2003). 2002: “Judge overturns $1.3 billion tobacco fee award” (Castano Group, California), Sept. 27-29; “Tobacco fees: one brave judge” (N.Y.), Jul. 30-31 (& Aug. 2-4, Jun. 21-23, 2002, Oct. 16-17, 2002, Feb. 11, 2003, May 11, 2001); “Dewey deserve that much?“, Mar. 6; “Mass., Ill., NYC tobacco fees“, Jan. 2-3. 2001: “Michigan tobacco fees“, Sept. 19-20; “Tobacco-fee tensions” (Fla. resumes investing in tobacco cos.), Jun. 21 (& letter to editor, Jul. 6); “Missouri’s tagalong tobacco fees“, Jun. 5 (& Sept. 21, 2000); “‘Lungren now a paid advocate for his former foes’” (Calif.), Apr. 5; “(Another) ‘Monster Fee Award for Tobacco Fighters’” (Calif. cities and counties), Mar. 21-22; “Reclaiming the tobacco loot“, Mar. 15; “Lawyers get tobacco fees early“, Mar. 5; “Tobacco arbitrator: they all know whose side I’m on“, Feb. 16-19. 2000: “Beehive of legal activity: Utah tobacco fees“, Nov. 6; “South Carolina tobacco fees: how to farm money“, Oct. 25; “Gore amid friendly crowd (again)” (Fla.), Apr. 12 (& “Dershowitz’s Florida frolic?“, Jul. 17; also see Dec. 8-10, 2000, Aug. 8-9, 2000, Dec. 27-28, 1999); “Sooner get rich” (Oklahoma), Jun. 7; “‘Lawyers’ tobacco-suit fees invite revolt’” (Ohio), May 23; “North Carolina (& Kentucky & Tennessee) tobacco fees“, May 2; “Connecticut AG has ‘no idea’ whether lawyers he hired are overcharging“, Feb. 3 (& update Feb. 16); “Pennsylvania tobacco fees: such a bargain!“, Jan. 10 (& Oct. 24, 2002). 1999: “Maryland’s kingmaker” (Peter Angelos), Oct. 19 (& Dec. 9, 1999, Oct. 16-17, 2000, June 21, 2001, Apr. 10, 2002); “Illinois tobacco fees“, Oct. 16-17; “My dear old tobacco-fee friends” (Kansas AG, like Connecticut’s, gave tobacco business to her old law firm), Oct. 11 (see also Sept. 21, 2000); “Boardwalk bonanza” (N.J.), Oct. 1-3; “News judgment“, Aug. 6; “Puff, the magic fees” (Wisc.), Jul. 13.
Tobacco-fee tycoons, 2003: “Class action lawyer takes $20 million from defendant’s side” (Joseph Rice), Mar. 15-16; “‘Not a pretty picture’“, Jan. 10-12; 2002: “Rumblings in Mississippi” (Scruggs, Minor), Oct. 9-10 (& Nov. 6); “Judge overturns $1.3 billion tobacco fee award” (Castano Group), Sept. 27-29. 2001: “Settle a dispute today” (O’Quinn vs. Jamail), Sept. 18; “Ness monster sighted in Narragansett Bay” (Rhode Island, Ness Motley), Jun. 7 (& see Oct. 6-9, 2000, July 17, 2000, Nov. 1, 1999). 2000: “Punch-outs, Florida style” (Robert Montgomery), Nov. 17-19 (& see Aug. 8, April 12, 2000; Aug. 21-22, 1999); “Friend to the famous” (Williams Bailey), Oct. 12; “Senator Lieberman: a sampler” (voted to curb tobacco fees), Aug. 8-9; “Trial lawyer candidates” (Minnesota’s Ciresi), Jul. 6 (& update Sept. 15-17; loses primary bid); “‘Lawyers’ tobacco-suit fees invite revolt’” (USA Today editorial), May 23. 1999: “Who’s afraid of Dickie Scruggs?“, Dec. 2; “Maryland’s kingmaker” (Peter Angelos), Oct. 19 (& Dec. 9, 1999, Oct. 16-17, 2000, June 21, 2001); “The Marie Antoinette school of public relations” (tobacco lawyers pose for photo shoot on their yachts, horse farms, etc.), Aug. 21-22; and see lawyers’ campaign contributions.
Humor: “Dave Barry on tobacco settlement, round III“, Sept. 16-17, 2002; “Dave Barry on tobacco suits, round II“, March 16, 2000; “Dave Barry on federal tobacco suit“, Oct. 26, 1999; “Cartoon that made us laugh” (“….We can’t take those off the market! Dangerous products are a gold mine for the government!”), Jan. 21-23, 2000.
Terms of state tobacco settlement, 2003: “Appeals bonds, again“, Apr. 2-3. 2002: “We did it all for the public health, cont’d” (Alabama devotes more proceeds to tobacco farmers than to smoking reduction), Aug. 22; “Tobacco settlement funds go to tobacco promotion” (N.C.), Jun. 28-30; “‘Bush budget surprise: $25M for tobacco suit’” (Martha Derthick, Up in Smoke), Feb. 20. 2001: “Tobacco-fee tensions” (Fla. resumes investing in tobacco cos.), Jun. 21 (& letter to editor, Jul. 6); “Reclaiming the tobacco loot“, Mar. 15; “Push him into a bedroom, hand him a script” (Bill Clinton testimonial for tobacco lawyers), Mar. 9-11; “Lawyers get tobacco fees early“, Mar. 5; “Tobacco arbitrator: they all know whose side I’m on“, Feb. 16-19; “Safer smokes vs. the settlement cartel“, Feb. 7-8. 2000: “Missouri tobacco fees“, Sept. 21, 2000; “Tobacco- and gun-suit reading” (Stuart Taylor, Jr.), Aug. 21-22, 2000; “Challenging the multistate settlement“, Jul. 17, 2000. 1999: “‘Few Settlement Dollars Used for Tobacco Control’“, Dec. 27-28; “Tobacco bankruptcies, and what comes after” (state gov’ts, trial lawyers would become cigarette producers), Dec. 13; “How the tobacco settlement works” (the more cigarettes sold, the more money states get), Nov. 2; “Addictive tobacco money” (states sued over alleged burden on their taxpayers — so are they using the proceeds to cut taxes?), Sept. 7; “Collusion: it’s an AG thing” (terms of settlement cartelize cigarette industry), Jul. 29. Also see Walter Olson, “Puff, the magic settlement“, Reason, Jan. 2000.
“‘Tough tobacco laws may not deter kids’“, Jun. 7-9, 2002; “Blind newsdealer charged with selling cigarettes to underage buyer“, Sept. 16, 1999.
“Sin-suit city” (Banzhaf), Jun. 10, 2002.
“Ad model sues tobacco company“, May 1-2, 2002.
“Australian party calls for banning smoking while driving“, Jun. 3-4, 2002; “‘Positive nicotine test to keep student from prom’” (over-18 student, off-premises consumption), Apr. 26-28, 2002 (& update May 10-12: school backs down); “Judge orders woman to stop smoking at home“, Mar. 27-28, 2002; “‘Smokers told to fetter their fumes’” (smoking in homes that bothers neighbors), Nov. 26, 2001; “Utah lawmakers: don’t smoke in your car” (when kids present), Oct. 5-7, 2001; “Apartment smoking targeted“, Jan. 3, 2000.
“Australian party calls for banning smoking while driving“, Jun. 3-4, 2002 (document retention case); “International tobacco suits: not quite such easy pickings“, Feb. 1-3, 2002; “‘Saudi Arabia finally gets tough on terrorism!’“, Dec. 10, 2001; “More from Judge Kent” (Bolivian suit), Aug. 3, 2001; “Smoker’s suit nixed in Norway“, Dec. 18-19, 2000; “They call it distributive justice” (government of Saudi Arabia sues tobacco cos.), Nov. 16, 2000; “Spreading to Australia?“, Dec. 29-30, 1999; “Israeli court rejects cigarette reimbursement suit“, Oct. 7, 1999.
“Veeps ATLA could love” (Durbin, D-Ill., as guardian of tobacco lawyers’ fees), July 7, 2000 (& see Apr. 25, 2002).
“Competing interests: none declared”. “The unconflicted Prof. Daynard“, April 21-23, 2000 (& update: letters, Jan. 2001, June 2001; Aug. 2, Dec. 17, 2001).
Federal tobacco suit: our views: “‘Bush budget surprise: $25M for tobacco suit’“, Feb. 20, 2002; “Judge throws out half of federal tobacco suit“, October 2, 2000; “Good news out of Washington…” (House votes to cut off funding for suit), June 21, 2000 (& update June 26: action reversed, funds approved); “Feds: dissent on smoking = racketeering“, Sept. 23, 1999; “Guest column in Forbes by Overlawyered.com‘s editor“, Oct. 25, 1999.
“Prison litigation: ‘Kittens and Rainbows Suites’” (cellmate’s smoking violates rights), Jan. 11-13, 2002.
Boeken v. Philip Morris: “Boeken record“, June 19, 2001; “$5,133.47 a cigarette“, Jun. 11, 2001; “Tobacco plunder in Los Angeles” ($3 billion damage award), Jun. 8-10, 2001.
Federal tobacco suit: others’ views: “Columnist-fest” (Jacob Sullum), Jun. 22-24, 2001; “Blatant end-runs around the democratic process” (former Labor Secretary Robert Reich), Jan. 15-16, 2000; “Dave Barry on federal tobacco suit” (plus novelist Tom Clancy’s critique), Oct. 26, 1999; “‘This wretched lawsuit’” (Jonathan Rauch in National Journal ), Oct. 13, 1999; “Feds’ tobacco shakedown: ‘A case of fraud’“, Sept. 29, 1999 (roundup of editorial pages); “Feds as tobacco pushers” (columnist Andrew Glass recalls encouragement of smoking in U.S. Army), Sept. 24, 1999; “Hurry up, before the spell breaks” (leading plaintiff’s lawyer wants feds to sue fast since public losing interest), Sept. 24, 1999.
Regulation by litigation: “Tobacco- and gun-suit reading” (law prof Michael Krauss), Aug. 21-22, 2000; “Convenient line at the time” (tobacco is unique, said state attorneys general — sure), May 15; “Stuart Taylor, Jr., on Smith & Wesson deal” (“Guns and Tobacco: Government by Litigation”), Apr. 11, 2000; “Arbitrary confiscation, from Pskov to Pascagoula” (Michael Barone in U.S. News on threat to rule of law), Jul. 24-25, 1999; “Guns, tobacco, and others to come” (Peter Huber in Commentary on the new mass-tort cases as “show trials”), Jul. 20; “‘A de facto fourth branch of government’” (prominent trial lawyer Wendell Gauthier’s view of plaintiff bar’s role), Jul. 4, 1999.
“Dewey deserve that much?“, Mar. 6, 2002; “Health plans rebuffed in bid to sue cigarette makers“, Jan. 11, 2000.
“Terrorists, American business execs compared“, Sept. 28-30, 2001.
“Columnist-fest“, Jun. 22-24, 2001 (Amity Shlaes on asbestos synergy case); “Best little forum-shopping in Texas” (state’s Medicaid suit got filed in Texarkana, contributing $6.1 million to local economy), Aug. 27, 1999.
“Updates” (baby Castano suit nixed in N.Y.), Dec. 26-29, 2000.
“Another billion, snuffed” (antitrust lawsuit between snuffmakers), May 10, 2000.
“Hollywood special: ‘The Insider’“, Mar. 30, 2000.
“Because they still had money” (Hausfeld’s price-fixing suit), Mar. 2, 2000.
“Tobacco lawyers’ lien leverage“, Feb. 29, 2000.
“Feds’ tobacco hypocrisy, cont’d: Indian ‘smoke shops’“, Jan. 25, 2000; “Do as we say, please” (Indian tribes, after profiting immensely from tax-free smoke shops, turn around and sue suppliers), Jul. 14, 1999.
“The joy of tobacco fees“, Jan. 20, 2000.
“Calif. state funds used to compile ‘enemies list’“, Jan. 5, 2000.
“‘Trial lawyers on trial’” (Trevor Armbrister, Reader’s Digest), Dec. 23-26, 1999.
“Philadelphia Inquirer Tech.life: ‘Web Winners’” (this page is recommended), Dec. 15, 1999.
“Ohio tobacco-settlement booty“, Nov. 8, 1999.
“Public by 2-1 margin disapproves of tobacco suits“, Nov. 5-7, 1999.
“Not-so-Kool omen for NAACP suit“, Nov. 1, 1999.
“Minnesota to auction seized cigarettes“, Oct. 21, 1999.
“Reform stirrings on public contingency fees“, Oct. 15, 1999.
“Big guns” (tobacco example shaped gun litigation), Oct. 5-6, 1999.
“Plus extra damages for having argued with us” (“lesson of tobacco”: you can get punished for defending your product), Aug. 19, 1999.
“‘Settlement bonds’: are guns next?” (how Wall Street finances expropriation of industries), Aug. 5, 1999.
Do the tobacco wars that began in the mid-1990s represent an unprecedented triumph for public health? Are they an inevitable response to legislative gridlock on smoking policy? Or are they our legal system’s own updated version of the Gilded Age scandals that brought American government into disrepute a century ago, siphoning billions of dollars of publicly obtained money into the hands of politically connected attorneys? Commentaries on Overlawyered.com (above) may help you decide. In the mean time, the following links offer a way into the wider tobacco controversy:
Anti-tobacco groups, most of which are supportive of litigation as well as other coercive government actions aimed at curtailing tobacco sale and use, are well represented on the web. They include Tobacco.org, federally funded antitobacco activist Stanton Glantz’s Tobacco Control Archives, Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights, Action on Smoking and Health, and the American Council on Science and Health. Tobacco.org’s links list is especially comprehensive. The empire associated with Prof. Richard Daynard, participant in tobacco suits, oft-quoted expert, and professor at Northeastern U., includes the Tobacco Products Liability Project and Tobacco Control Resource Center, as well as the State Tobacco Information Center. The Castano Group, a vast joint venture of trial lawyers cooperating to file tobacco class actions, maintains a website that is distinctly uninformative (unless you’re a lawyer/member or a cooperative pressie).
Relatively neutral sites include Yahoo Full Coverage.
Critics of the anti-tobacco crusade often note that it curtails individual liberty, freedom of contract and freedom of association. As part of its Breaking Issues series (“Fining Smokers“), Reason magazine includes a list of online articles skeptical of the government’s role in the tobacco field, while Reason senior editor Jacob Sullum is the author of 1998’s For Your Own Good : The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health. At the libertarian-oriented Cato Institute, Robert Levy has criticized “The Tobacco Wars“, written that “States Share Blame for Tobacco Lawyers’ Greed“, and called tobacco settlements “Dangerous to Your Liberty“; the state Medicaid suits, he argues, are “Snuffing Out the Rule of Law“. Cato’s Jerry Taylor describes the battle as “The Pickpocket State vs. Tobacco“. “The Anti-Tobacco Crusade” by Joseph Kellard, Capitalism magazine, March 1998, argues from a viewpoint supportive of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. In Colorado, the Independence Institute maintains a Center for Personal Freedom run by Linda Gorman which draws the connection to other paternalist crusades on issues like drinking, seatbelt use and mandatory helmet laws. The Heritage Foundation’s Todd Gaziano makes the case that a proposed federal lawsuit against tobacco companies is “elevating politics over law” (July 30, 1999 Backgrounder). Overlawyered.com‘s editor has taken exception to the retroactivity of the crusade, to its manipulative treatment of children, and to the hardball or demagogic tactics used in the Castano and Engle cases. Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) delivered a notable critique of the tobacco litigation at a Congressional hearing held Dec. 10, 1997 (no longer online).
An extensive site offering an aggressive defense of smoking and smokers, along with a large collection of links, is Forces International (“Fight Ordinances and Restrictions to Control and Eliminate Smoking”).
October 30-31 — “Give It Back to the Indians?” Just out: our editor has an article in the new issue of City Journal (Autumn) on how the sad history of Indian land claim litigation in the Northeast — in which, over the past 25 years, the courts have allowed tribes to revive territorial claims thought to have been resolved as long ago as the presidency of George Washington — may prefigure the misery in store if our legal system gives the go-ahead to lawsuits over slavery reparations. (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — Deflating Spitzer’s crusade. Long but incisive article by Michael Lewis challenging the much-bruited notion that Wall Street skullduggery was mainly responsible for the boom and bust in tech stocks, and specifically deflating the pretensions of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who’s positioned himself at the forefront of the resulting legal crusade. Among Lewis’s key points: 1) the boom was no mere artifact of Wall Street hype, big firms like Merrill Lynch having mostly followed the investing public into tech mania rather than leading them there; 2) the line between visionary rethinking of current business practice and hallucinatory speculation was nowhere near as clear at the time as it seems in hindsight; 3) the supposedly occult conflict of interest between research and underwriting was hidden in such plain sight that anyone paying half-attention to the Street should have been aware of it; 4) the boom — even given its bust — did a great deal of social good; 5) the quest to clean up the stock-touting process obscures from the public the real lesson it would do well to absorb, which is that stock-picking advice from brokerages is generally useless whether sincere or not; 6) it’s not hard to read emails as establishing guilt if you let lawyers cherry-pick a few of them out of thousands while dropping their context. (Michael Lewis, “In Defense of the Boom”, New York Times Magazine, Oct. 27). For a contrasting view, calling Lewis’s article “nonsense”, see Peter Eavis, “The Billboard: Boom Boom”, New York Press, Oct. 28. On how Spitzer came into possession of the Merrill Lynch emails that enabled him to stage-manage much of this summer’s news flow, see Nicholas Varchaver, “Lawyers Target More Than Merrill”, Fortune, Jun. 10 (a plaintiffs’ lawyer evidently sent them over after settling a suit with the brokerage; the resulting Spitzer-driven publicity brought a bonanza of new cases to the lawyer’s door). (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — Mistrial in Providence lead-paint case. “The six-member jury sent a note to the judge shortly after 2 p.m. that it could not reach a unanimous decision on whether the paints constituted a public nuisance.” (“Mistrial declared in landmark lead paint trial”, Providence Journal, Oct. 29; AP/Law.com, Oct. 30). “Four jurors [on the six-person panel] sided with the paint companies and two voted for the state. … About one minute after the mistrial became public, the stock prices of several defendants began shooting up …. The Sherwin-Williams Co. alone increased in value by nearly half a billion dollars.” (Peter B. Lord, “Trailblazing lead paint trial ends in deadlock”, Providence Journal, Oct. 30). So it’s back to surface-prep work for the closely watched effort to cover the world with litigation (see Oct. 28), and trial lawyers can’t be happy about the fact that their chief ally in the matter, Rhode Island attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse, will be departing office shortly. Have they painted themselves into a corner? Whitehouse for his part blames the paint companies for being “litigious”, recalling the famous French saying: “It is a very vicious animal. When attacked, it defends itself.” Update: see also “The Hand of Providence” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Oct 31, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform site. (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — “Nannies to sue for racial bias”. Great Britain: “Familes who hire nannies, cleaners and gardeners in their own homes face being sued for racial discrimination under a major shake-up of race relations laws. … Under plans to be published by the Home Office in the next fortnight, the Race Relations Act is expected to be tightened to include private householders as part of sweeping changes expected to trigger a flood of new tribunal cases. Householders could be taken to tribunals if they behave in a racist manner towards domestic help, for example, by refusing to hire a black carer for children. … The only exemption would be if they can show a ‘genuine occupational requirement’ to hire someone of a particular racial group — such as an elderly Muslim woman who wanted a home help who was also a Muslim. Critics will argue that the change could cause a legal nightmare for ordinary families, who could face bills for damages running into thousands of pounds unless they read up on the intricacies of employment law.”
Initial opposition to the new proposals appears to be tepid at best: thus the Conservative party’s shadow industry minister merely voices doubts about whether the measure is “likely to be effective,” while a spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry “said it would broadly welcome the changes,” though the CBI did express misgivings about another of the proposals in the antibias package, under which “for the first time the burden of proof in all employment tribunals would …be shifted so that it is effectively up to employers to prove they are not racist, rather than workers to prove that there was discrimination, so long as there is a prima facie case to answer.” (Gaby Hinsliff, The Observer (U.K.), Oct. 20). (DURABLE LINK)
October 30-31 — Monday: 13,555 pages served on Overlawyered.com. October 28 was one of our busiest days yet on the site, with traffic boosted by reader interest in our link roundups on the Moscow hostage episode (especially the WSJ‘s “Best of the Web” mention) on top of the 4,000-6,000 pages that we’re accustomed to serve on a more ordinary weekday. Thanks for your support!
P.S. Oops! Our unfamiliarity with our new statistics program led us to overcount: the Oct. 28 figure should have instead been 9,800 pages served, and the “regular” range 3,500-5,000. Still pretty good. (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Welcome WSJ Best of the Web readers. Readers looking for our earlier coverage of the Moscow theater siege will find it here and here.
MORE COVERAGE: Among accounts of the theater storming based on firsthand interviews are Alice Lagnado, “As dawn neared, a light mist suddenly came down”, Times (U.K.), Oct. 28, and Mark MacKinnon, “‘All they had to do was push the button'”, Globe and Mail (Canada), Oct. 28. The Bush White House declined to blame the Russian authorities for the hostage toll, saying responsibility rests with the captors: “The Russian government and the Russian people are victims of this tragedy, and the tragedy was caused as a result of the terrorists who took hostages and booby-trapped the building and created dire circumstances,” said spokesman Ari Fleischer. ( “White House: Blame Lies With Captors”, AP/Yahoo, Oct. 27). Other commentaries: Kieran Healy (Oct. 27), Mark Kleiman (Oct. 27); Mark Riebling reader comments. (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Ambulances, paramedics sued more. “A growing ambulance industry is learning that malpractice suits are not just for doctors anymore. … [one defense lawyer] says there’s a tough lesson to be learned in all ambulance cases. ‘You can do everything right, and you can still get sued.'” Includes a revealing quote from a Boston plaintiff’s lawyer about how he tries to get jurors so upset at alleged bumbling by ambulance operators that they “make short work” of the crucial question of whether that conduct was actually responsible for the patient’s injury. (Tresa Baldas, “Mean Streets”, National Law Journal, Oct. 23). (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Anticipatory law enforcement. Following the lead of some other jurisdictions, the city of Cincinnati has adopted new ordinances targeting men who patronize prostitutes (“johns”) by allowing the city to seize their cars. The ordinances don’t take effect until next month, which hasn’t kept the city police department’s vice unit from carrying out a significant number of car impoundments already, 13 in one week. “Even though the ordinances haven’t gone into effect yet, [Lt. John] Gallespie said the cars were impounded ‘for safekeeping.'” (Craig Garretson, “Police seize ‘johns’ cars”, Cincinnati Post, Oct. 21). (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — R.I. lead paint case goes to jury. Rhode Island’s lawsuit against the lead paint industry, a concoction of ambitious trial lawyers and the politicians they love, has now gone to a jury after a two-month trial that’s been curiously underpublicized considering the case’s implications for American industry (“Jury deliberates for second day in lead paint case”, AP/CNN, Oct. 25). The state “is pursuing the novel claim that the defendant manufacturers and distributors of lead paint or lead created a public nuisance and should be held responsible for cleaning up what’s remaining in thousands of buildings in the state. The first phase of the trial will consider only one question — whether the presence of lead paint in Rhode Island buildings constitutes a public nuisance.” If the jury votes in favor of that theory, later phases of trial will consider such issues as fault and damages. (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Rhode Island to Try First State Suit Over Lead Paint”, National Law Journal, Aug. 19).
Perhaps the best journalistic treatment we’ve seen of this travesty is found in a Forbes cover story from last year that is available now in fee-based archives (Michael Freedman, “Turning Lead Into Gold”, Forbes, May 14, 2001). The article explores how the nation’s richest tort law firm, Charleston, S.C.-based tobacco-asbestos powerhouse Ness Motley, moved into Rhode Island and quickly made itself the state’s largest political contributor, around the same time as it was picking up a contingency fee contract from state attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse to represent the state in the lead paint litigation. (Whitehouse proceeded to run for governor this year, but lost narrowly in the Democratic primary). To date, while trial lawyers have recruited numerous cities, counties and school districts around the country to sue paint makers, they have not persuaded any other states to join Rhode Island in its action (see our commentary of Jun. 7, 2001). At the same time, there are plenty of reasons to mistrust the contention that a “lead poisoning epidemic” can somehow be blamed for educational failure and crime among young people in inner-city neighborhoods like South Providence, R.I. Levels of lead exposure once typical of American children have now been retrospectively redefined as “poisoning”, thus ensuring the sense of a continuing crisis (see our commentary of Jun. 8-10, 2001). See also Steven Malanga, “Lead Paint Scam”, New York Post, Jun. 24. Update Oct. 30-31: judge declares mistrial after jury deadlock. (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Looking back on EEOC v. Sears. Among the most monumental and hard-fought discrimination lawsuits ever was the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s years-long courtroom crusade against Sears, Roebuck during the 1980s over the statistical “underrepresentation” of women in some of its employment categories, such as hardware and commission sales. (Sears won, and the case became one of the Commission’s most humiliating defeats.) In one of the controversies spawned by the case, Barnard College historian Rosalind Rosenberg was attacked by many colleagues in the field of women’s studies for supposedly betraying women’s equality by allowing her scholarship to be used in the retailer’s defense. Now John Rosenberg, who was formerly married to Rosalind Rosenberg and who also worked in the Sears defense, offers a partial memoir of the episode (Oct. 25) on a new weblog titled Discriminations in which his focus will be “on the theory and practice of discrimination, and how it is reported and analyzed.” (The piece begins with an introductory riff concerning UC Irvine history professor Jon Weiner, one of those assailing Rosalind Rosenberg in the mid-1980s controversy; Weiner recently caused many a jaw to drop by stepping forward in the Nation to defend disgraced Arming America author Michael Bellesiles.) (via InstaPundit). (DURABLE LINK)
October 28-29 — Satirical-disclaimer Hall of Fame. Lawyer-driven warning labels and disclaimer notices are easy to play for laughs, and readers often bring funny satires to our attention (like Dave Barry’s). Few are worked out in as much detail, however, as this splash page on the website of The Chaser, an Australian humor magazine (scroll down): “Maintain good posture at all times while reading … may cause paper cuts … Please avoid mixing The Chaser with water and glue, which could … cause some readers to be caught in a papier mache death trap. … The Chaser is flammable. Do not set fire to your copy of The Chaser, whether with a match, cigarette lighter … [or] shining a magnifying glass on a particular little spot. … Do not shred The Chaser and use it as confetti. … We make no guarantees as to the longevity of any marital unions formed whilst using The Chaser in any part of the ceremony …”. And a whole lot more — give it a look. (DURABLE LINK)
October 26-27 — Moscow hostage crisis, updated. According to Russian authorities, at least 118 hostages were killed and more than 700 were freed after security forces stormed the theater; most of the 50 terrorist captors were also killed and all or nearly all of the rest captured. After the terrorists started executing hostages, the crowd of captives had begun to flee in panic; security forces had also pumped a kind of sleeping gas into the theater. (“Moscow Hostage Death Toll Up to 118”, AP/ABC News, Oct. 27; “Russian forces storm siege theatre”, BBC, Oct. 26; Moscow Times). Contradicting earlier accounts from authorities, “Moscow’s chief physician said Sunday that all but one of the 117 hostages who died … were killed by the effects of gas used to subdue their captors.” (AP/Washington Post, Oct. 27). “If the theatre had not been stormed, all hostages would have been killed, the Interfax journalist who was among the hostages, Olga Chernyak, said.” (Interfax/Moscow Times, Oct. 26, and scroll for more entries). More links: AP/ABC News, Oct. 26; Washington Post, Oct. 27; BBC, Oct. 27; Damian Penny. Dilacerator offers a commentary (Oct. 26), as does Natalie Solent (Oct. 27). Thanks to InstaPundit and Eugene Volokh for their links to our extensive coverage below.
More: London’s Telegraph reports that it “has learned that a number of Arab fighters, believed to be of Saudi Arabian and Yemeni origin, were among the group that seized control of the theatre. ‘There were definitely Arab terrorists in the building with links to al-Qa’eda,’ said a senior Western diplomat. … Russian officials said that the hostage-takers had made several calls to the United Arab Emirates during the siege.” (Christina Lamb and Ben Aris, “Russians probe al-Qa’eda link as Moscow siege ends with 150 dead”, Sunday Telegraph (UK), Oct. 27). Although the Moscow terrorists (like those who carried out the hijacking of United Flight 93) had magnified public terror by allowing their captives to use cell phones to call their families, the tactic once again backfired, because the resulting exchange of information made it easier to thwart the terror plans: see Preston Mendenhall, “Cell phones were rebels’ downfall”, MS/NBC, Oct. 26. And Russia’s Gazeta reports that: “A 27-year-old resident of Chechnya has been detained by Moscow law enforcers on suspicion of having carried out the October 19 car bomb attack on a McDonald’s restaurant” in which one was killed and seven injured. Authorities had previously sought to blame the bombing on gangland rivalries, but “in the light of the recent events in Moscow, the prosecutor’s office does not rule out that the explosion may have been a terrorist attack.” (“Suspect detained in McDonald’s blast inquiry”, Gazeta.ru, Oct. 25). (DURABLE LINK)
October 25-27 — Updates. New developments in cases we’ve followed:
* “Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Ramos on Tuesday froze further payments on a $625 million arbitration award to the six law firms that represented New York state in its litigation against the tobacco industry until he finishes reviewing the reasonableness of the sum.” (Daniel Wise, “Judge Freezes $625M Tobacco Award to Law Firms”, New York Law Journal, Oct. 23) (see Jul. 30-31).
* “The Canadian Transportation Agency has dismissed the complaint of an obese Calgary woman who argued her size was a disability and that airlines shouldn’t make her pay extra for a larger seat. ‘Being unable to fit in a seat should not be enough evidence of the existence of a disability as many people experience discomfort in the seat,’ the agency said in a decision released Wednesday. Calgary law professor Linda McKay-Panos, who described herself in documents as ‘morbidly obese,’ launched the process in 1997 after having to pay Air Canada for 1.5 seats because of her size.” (Judy Monchuk, “Federal board nixes Calgary woman’s bid for seat-price break for obese flyers”, Canadian Press, Oct. 23)(see Dec. 20, 2000). And in the United Kingdom, a “woman injured while squeezed next to an obese passenger on a trans-Atlantic flight has been given £13,000 ($20,000)” by Virgin Atlantic Airways. (“Woman squashed by plane passenger”, CNN, Oct. 22).
* In Paris, a panel of three judges has declared French writer Michel Houellebecq not guilty of inciting racial hatred after he was sued by four Muslim groups for delivering remarks contemptuous of Islam (“French author cleared of race hate”, BBC, Oct. 22)(see Aug. 23-25, Sept. 18-19).
* “A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals has tossed a $29.2 million civil court judgment against The Jenny Jones Show, after deciding the syndicated chatfest should not be held liable for protecting a guest who was gunned down after revealing he had a crush on another man.” (Josh Grossberg, “‘Jenny Jones’ Vindicated”, E! Online, Oct. 23). The case is another setback for controversial Michigan attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who promptly launched a characteristically intemperate attack on the appeals judges (Stephen W. Huber, “Court tosses $29M award against ‘Jenny Jones Show'”, Oakland (Mich.) Press, Oct. 24) (see May 31, 2001). More: Michigan’s LitiGator (Oct. 25).
* “Voting 2-1, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s (SEPTA) physical fitness test for job applicants of its transit police force is perfectly legal — even though it has a ‘disparate impact’ on women — because it serves as a true measure of ‘the minimum qualifications necessary for the successful performance of the job.’ …the plaintiffs claimed that the test discriminates against women because it requires all applicants for the SEPTA police force to run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes.” (Shannon P. Duffy, “3rd Circuit Rules Fitness Test for Police Force Applicants Legal”, The Legal Intelligencer, Oct. 16) (see Sept. 15, 1999, Oct. 5-7, 2001). “Interestingly, two female appellate judges joined in the opinion rejecting this claim of sex discrimination, while a male appellate judge dissented,” notes Howard Bashman (Oct. 15).
* In Australia, a judge has ruled against the Pentecostal worshiper who sued claiming a “church had been negligent by not providing someone to catch her when she was ‘slain in the spirit'” during a 1996 service, causing her to fall down and strike her head on a carpeted concrete floor. (Kelly Burke, “Church not liable for Lord’s early fallers”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 19)(see Oct. 1-2). (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — Pa. statehouse race: either way, Big Law wins. “In a race that will easily break Pennsylvania gubernatorial spending records, the top givers are lawyers, by far. … [Republican Mike] Fisher has received $125,000 since June from two law firms he named, as attorney general, to handle a state lawsuit against tobacco companies.” (see Jan. 10, 2000). “But the firms, which split $50 million in legal fees, have hedged their bets by also donating $107,000 to [Democrat Ed] Rendell.” And the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association has endorsed Rendell, who is considered less likely than Fisher to support curbs on medical malpractice lawsuits. (Tom Infield and Rose Ciotta, “Lawyers top givers to Fisher, Rendell”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 22). As mayor of Philadelphia, Rendell also made himself a booster of the abusive campaign of municipal litigation against gun manufacturers, though he held back from filing an actual suit given the unpopularity of such a move with the non-urban voters needed to win a statewide race in Pennsylvania (see Dec. 22, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — Suit: schoolkids shouldn’t attend rodeo. Two animal rights groups have filed suit “asking a San Francisco Superior Court judge to keep Bay Area schoolchildren from going to the free Grand National Rodeo day for students, which will be held at the Cow Palace on Thursday and may be repeated next year.” As many as 9,000 students are expected to attend the event. “Gina Snow, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Unified School District, said children are only allowed to attend with parental permission, and that the decisions to participate are made by individual teachers.” Attorney David Blatte of Berkeley “focuses all his work on ‘animal law'”. (Dan Reed, “Suit: Rodeo bad for kids”, San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 23). And Matthew Scully’s new book Dominion, a conservative’s defense of animal welfare, “asks all the right questions about animal rights, even if it doesn’t canvass all the possible answers”, according to the summary of a review by Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic (“Political Animals”, Nov.) (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — “California Court Upholds $290 Million Injury Jury Award Against Ford”. “The California Supreme Court let stand on Wednesday a $290 million personal injury jury award levied against Ford Motor Co. stemming from a Bronco rollover accident in 1993. The justices, without publicly commenting, decided at their private weekly conference to uphold what Ford, in court briefs, called the nation’s largest personal injury award ever affirmed by an appellate court.” (Quicken/AP, Oct. 23; Mike McKee, “California Justices Let Stand $290M Award Against Ford”, The Recorder, Oct. 24). When the original trial verdict was reported, we looked in some detail (Aug. 24 and Sept. 17-19, 1999; see also Aug. 27, 2002) at the very curious influences that held sway during the jury’s deliberations, including one juror’s lurid dream revealing Ford’s guilt, and another’s misrecollection of a “60 Minutes” episode which purportedly proved the company’s bad faith. (DURABLE LINK)
October 24 — Russia’s fight, and ours. “Gunmen identifying themselves as Chechens took more than 700 people hostage inside a Moscow theater Wednesday night, threatening to kill some of the hostages and telling police they had mined portions of the building.” (“Chechen gunmen seize Moscow theater”, CNN, Oct. 23; Michael Wines, “Chechens Seize Moscow Theater, Taking as Many as 600 Hostages”, New York Times, Oct. 24 (reg); AP/ABC, “Rebels Take Moscow Audience Hostage”, Oct. 23). “Local media said children, Muslims and foreigners who could show their passports were allowed to leave the building. The reports could not be confirmed.” (Natalia Yefimova, Torrey Clark and Lyuba Pronina, “Armed Chechens Seize Moscow Theater”, Moscow Times, Oct. 24). Chechen militants have repeatedly seized civilian hostages in groups of hundreds and even thousands, as well as claiming credit for railway-station bombings in Russia (“Chechen rebels’ hostage history”, BBC, Oct. 24; “Chechen rebels hold at least 1,000 hostages in hospital”, CNN, Jan. 9, 1996; Adnan Malik, “Hijackers Free Women and Kids”, AP, Mar. 15, 2001; “Separatists’ history of hostages and horror”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 24). Since 9/11 U.S. officials have been less inclined to dispute “Russia’s long-standing claim that the Chechen rebellion, which spills over into neighboring Caucasus republics, is not just a local independence movement, but has become a full-blown subsidiary of the global Islamic terror network headed by [Osama] bin Laden.” (Fred Weir, “A new terror-war front: the Caucasus”, Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 26). Also see, on the al-Qaeda-Chechnya connection, Mark Riebling and R. P. Eddy, “Jihad@Work”, National Review Online, Oct. 24, and BBC, Oct. 23. The Moscow Times has a list of the names of the Westerners who are being held hostage, who include three Americans, two Britons, two Australians, and a Canadian, as well as various others (Kevin O’Flynn, “Europeans, Americans Inside Theater”, Oct. 25). Asparagirl (Oct. 23) wouldn’t be surprised if it happened here.
More: In “footage aired by Qatar’s al-Jazeera satellite TV”, a chador-clad woman who said she was one of the Chechen hostage-takers said: “We have chosen to die in Moscow and we will kill hundreds of infidels.” (“We’ll kill hundreds of infidels: Hostage-taker”, AFP/Times of India, Oct. 24). “‘I swear by God we are more keen on dying than you are keen on living,’ a black-clad male said in the broadcast believed to have been recorded on Wednesday.” Another hostage-taker, while denying that the terrorists were operating as part of al-Qaeda, told the BBC: “We have come to die. …we want to be in paradise.” (BBC, “Hostage-takers ‘ready to die'”, Oct. 25). The Russian press is treating the unfolding events as “Russia’s Sept. 11”. (BBC, Oct. 25). In an echo that Americans will find familiar, “Many channels have broadcast chilling messages from the hostages themselves, calling from their mobile phones.” (“Distant war comes to Moscow”, BBC, Oct. 24).
According to London’s Evening Standard, the terrorists are disinclined to release any more of their foreign hostages because they suspect that international interest in the episode might wane if they did so. (“Britons still held in Moscow siege”, Oct. 25). Reportedly one of the American hostages, Sandy Alan Booker, 49, who was vacationing in Moscow, hails from Oklahoma City, Okla. (“Chechen Gunmen Threaten to Begin Killing Hostages at Dawn”, AP/FoxNews, Oct. 25). Update: Russian security forces storm theater, ending siege, with more than 100 hostages killed along with most of the captors: see Oct. 26.
FURTHER: Some London, Broadway and European theater owners have stepped up security, but Andre Ptaszynski, chief executive of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s chain of 14 London theaters, virtually boasts of not taking such threats seriously, explaining that an outrage by the Irish Republican Army against the West End is considered unlikely; apparently Ptaszynski is unable to think of any other groups that might harbor terrorist designs on London. (Matt Wolf, “Some Theaters on Alert After Siege”, AP/Yahoo, Oct. 25; “London theatres increase security”, BBC, Oct. 25 (via Jen Taliaferro). Riebling and Eddy, in NRO, note: “the tactics of Chechen jihadists are regarded by the FBI as a possible indicator of al Qaeda methods in the U.S.” (DURABLE LINK)
October 23 — Batch of reader letters. We’ve been remiss in keeping up with the inbox, but here are eight letters on subjects that include lawyers’ penchant for doing things expensively, a sane damage award in Ireland, Enron’s lawyers, lawsuits over avocados and anchovies, suitable targets of gamblers’ suits, George W. Bush’s record on tort reform, whether free speech should have a racism exception, and Western wildfires. More letters are on deck for later, too. (DURABLE LINK)
October 23 — Artificial hearts experimental? Who knew? “The widow of artificial-heart recipient James Quinn yesterday sued the maker of the device, the hospital where it was implanted, and the patient advocate who helped Quinn decide to have the surgery.” The 51-year-old man survived more than eight months after receiving the mechanical heart last November, but his “initially remarkable recovery was followed by months in the hospital.” The suit says Quinn had “no quality of life and his essential human dignity had been taken from him.” “Irene Quinn said yesterday that she and her husband did not know what they were getting into when they joined the clinical trial. They thought the machine would save his life, she said. She said they should have been told more about what earlier patients had experienced and that it should have been made more clear just how experimental the device was.” (Stacey Burling, “Widow sues artificial-heart maker”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 17; “Lawsuit over artificial heart”, CBS News, Oct. 17; MedRants, Oct. 18). (DURABLE LINK)
October 22 — “Judge: Disabilities Act doesn’t cover Web”. An important ruling, but one that’s unlikely to be the last word, on a controversy we’ve covered extensively in the past: “A federal judge ruled Friday that Southwest Airlines does not have to revamp its Web site to make it more accessible to the blind. In the first case of its kind, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz said the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies only to physical spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters, and not to the Internet.” Quotes our editor who mentions the possible headaches the ADA could pose even to a modest site like this one, if it turns out to apply to the web. (Declan McCullagh, CNet/News.com, Oct. 21)(opinion). More: Matthew Haggman, “Judge Tosses Suit That Said ADA Applies to Business Web Sites”, Miami Daily Business Review, Oct. 25. (DURABLE LINK)
October 22 — “Nanny Bloomberg”. This site’s editor also has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today on the New York mayor’s crusade against smoking in bars. It’s available only to online subscribers of the Journal, unfortunately. (DURABLE LINK)
October 22 — “‘Penney’s prevails in shopper suit”. A Tennessee Court of Appeals judge has upheld a lower court’s rejection of a $600,000 lawsuit by Carolyn and Robert L. Wells against the retailer J.C. Penney. Mrs. Wells had told the court that she had been shopping for collectible crystal figurines on sale at a Penney store in Shelby County when an ill-mannered fellow shopper wrested two crystal bears from her hands, inflicting injuries on her shoulder, neck and back. However, Judge Holly K. Lillard said that the confrontation, which “demonstrates the dangers of the cutthroat arena of after-Christmas bargain shopping,” was one whose particulars the store could not have foreseen. (Tom Sharp, AP/GoMemphis.com, Oct. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — Rethinking grandparent visitation. Among the litigation-encouraging developments in family law in recent years has been the rise of laws enabling grandparents to sue demanding rights to visit their grandchildren even against the wishes of a fit parent. But both courts and lawmakers are growing disenchanted with such laws. One Seattle attorney charges that grandparents with time on their hands engage in “recreational litigation”. (Annie Hsia, “About Grandma’s Visits …”, National Law Journal, Oct. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — “Judicial Hellholes”. After surveying its members, the American Tort Reform Association presents a report describing the most frequently identified “Judicial Hellholes”, localities in which litigation abuse is common and civil defendants find it hard to get a fair trial. On the list are Alameda, Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, California; notorious counties in Mississippi, Illinois, and Texas; and others. Is your hometown court on the list? (“Bringing Justice to Judicial Hellholes 2002”, report in PDF format). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — “Our friends are at war, too”. “The first soldier to die in combat in Afghanistan was an Australian. … We’re not just fellow infidels, but brothers on a field of battle that stretches from Manhattan to Bali. If the American media don’t understand that, then the American president needs to remind them.” (Mark Steyn, “Our friends are at war, too”, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 20). See Oct. 14; also Tom Allard and Mark Baker, “PM’s vow: we’ll get the bastards”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 21; Tim Blair, “Killing terrorists wipes out terror”, The Australian, Oct. 17; Virginia Postrel (scroll to Oct. 17 and Oct. 16 posts). (DURABLE LINK)
October 21 — “Demand for more ugly people on TV”. “Lecturer Trond Andresen of the Norwegian Institute of Technology in Trondheim accuses the media of discriminating against the ugly and emphasizing beautiful people whenever possible. Andresen wants higher ugly quotas on television. ‘Ugly people should be spotlighted in the media in the same way that the media wishes to emphasize persons from ethnic minorities,’ Andresen, a lecture at the Department of Engineering Cybernetics, said to newspaper Bergens Tidende.” (Aftenposten, Oct. 17). (DURABLE LINK)